News Overtaking News

Americans probably long for the good old days when a big news story stuck around for weeks and weeks – Bill and Monica and that blue dress, something to talk about endlessly, followed by the impeachment and acquittal and then the thorough trouncing of the Republicans that followed in the midterm elections, because they had come off as nasty mean-spirited prissy prudes. They had miscalculated. No one cared that Bill Clinton was horn-dog jerk. Most men are jerks like that. He had been doing just fine as president. That was what finally mattered – but that whole thing took months to work out – and it took more than a month to work out who would be the next president, with those hanging chads and all the rest. That went all the way to the Supreme Court, but before they decided to stop all recounts and hand the presidency to the second George Bush, there was only one news story.

It had been the same with Watergate. After the House and Senate hearings began there was only one news story until Richard Nixon resigned. The nation obsessed about that. On March 1, 1932, it was the Lindbergh kidnapping – and that went on forever. The kid’s body was found on May 12 and in September 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and his trial ended on February 13, 1935 and he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death and he was executed on April 3, 1936 – a long run for a news story. H. L. Mencken called this “the biggest story since the Resurrection” – and maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t. Charles Lindbergh was the ultimate American hero at the time. The kid, his son, wasn’t even two years old when he had been grabbed. The nation could really obsess about that, and did.

The same thing happened with Obamacare. That seemed the only news story from the day Obama took office in 2008 and nothing else mattered until it was signed into law in 2010 – and then the story really took off. The Tea Party swept the midterms that year. They wanted it gone. There were court challenges that didn’t work – the Supreme Court shrugged. There were endless votes in the House to replace it, but with a Democratic Senate that went nowhere. Republicans retook the Senate, but that didn’t work either – Obama was still president and would veto whatever they passed with the House. There was a government shutdown in there somewhere too – to force Obama to give in and end the damned thing. That didn’t work either. Trump’s election, on the promise to repeal and replace the whole thing, didn’t help either.

No one had a better alternative, but they’re still working on it:

The latest proposal would give states control over billions in federal health-care spending, repeal the law’s key mandates and enact deep cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled. It would slash health-care spending more deeply and would probably cover fewer people than the July bill – which failed because of concerns over those details.

The appearance of a new measure reflected just how damaging Republicans consider their inability to make good on a key campaign promise of the past seven years: to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

But trying again brings its own perils. It remains far from certain that McConnell can marshal the 50 votes he needs to pass the measure.

There are a number of Republican senators who still would rather not be a part of taking health insurance away from thirty million Americans – this latest version is the most severe yet. It may pass, barely. It probably won’t pass. After the end of the month, because of the Senate’s arcane reconciliation rules, Republicans will need sixty votes, not fifty, to repeal the damned thing. That might kill the whole thing. But the Obamacare story goes on, and on and on

The Obamacare story, however, might die. The good old days are gone. The Trump administration killed them. Now it’s one damned thing after another. One news story overtakes the next in a matter of hours. Kim Jong Un can fire off all the missiles he wants, testing this and that, and test his hydrogen bomb, but Donald Trump will tweet something that pisses off the Brits, or say he’s not really pulling out of the Paris climate accord, then say he really is, and then say he isn’t, and then say he is. Donald Trump can say the DACA “dreamer” kids are gone, and then say he agrees with Pelosi and Schumer that they can stay, and then say he never said that at all. There will be a wall – or it can wait – or it will really be a fence. Or there will be a wall. Who knows? And all along, Robert Mueller is working away – news stories pop up – that Russia thing keeps popping up. The subject changes again, and forget these “theme weeks” – Infrastructure Week – Made in America Week. Each “theme week” is over by noon on Monday. Other things come up, like the most powerful hurricanes ever seen. Harvey took out Houston. Irma took out Florida. Maria is about to take out what’s left of the Caribbean that Irma missed. That’s three Category 5 hurricanes in a row. Kim Jong Un can fire off all the missiles he wants. Who’s he again? And what’s this about Obamacare? What’s that, and why does it matter now? We have a healthcare system. Call it what you want. Everyone else has moved on.

New news shoves out old news stories. This was supposed to be Trump’s big week at the UN – he would address them and do his “America First” thing. He’d tell them they didn’t matter very much at all. American would finally sneer at the whole world, and Americans would love Donald Trump for that. It would be his dream come true.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan comments on how that started out:

President Trump got off to an underwhelming start at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday morning. He sat on a panel flanked by various diplomats, including Ambassador Nikki Haley, who introduced him before he delivered some brief remarks, and it would be charitable to describe the welcoming applause as “light.”

Then came the clunker. Haley had told the assembled that the new American president sees “tremendous potential” in the U.N. – a cold enough slap at an organization that’s been around for 72 years and, for all its flaws, has accomplished quite a bit. But Trump followed that dig with a face-splash of ice water, saying that the real “potential” he saw was “right across the street” – a reference to one of his East Side real-estate projects – and noted that the U.N.’s presence was what gave it such potential.

That would be concerns Trump World Tower – 845 United Nations Plaza, just across the street from the General Assembly Building. If you’re in the city you can’t miss it – it was the tallest residential tower in the city when it was built – an 861-foot-high seventy-two story (ninety floors) black glass monster, towering over everything. It’s quite an erection, in all senses of that word. And what Trump did in 1999 led the city to revise every zoning resolution they had. The thing was erected “as-of-right” – within the existing zoning and building regulations, so it didn’t require approval by all those pesky city agencies. Trump had assembled a whole lot of small contiguous lots and transferred their development rights to that stretch of First Avenue – no one had thought of that before. And then he just built the giant building. Nothing was approved by anyone. Naturally the project pissed off everyone there in Turtle Bay, and they fought him, trying to block construction. But they lost. The city then rewrote the zoning rules – no more swapping minor miscellaneous development rights with no hearings at all – but it was too late. Trump just grinned and sneered at his neighbors.

One of those neighbors was Walter Cronkite, the retired anchorman for CBS News. In 1999 Cronkite told the New York Times that it wasn’t just him – the protest against this monster was “supported by a whole lot more less-than-wealthy folks, who are sharply offended by the unnecessary grossness of this project.” Cronkite lived in an apartment on the twenty-fifth floor at 870 United Nations Plaza across the street – with neighbors like Truman Capote and Johnny Carson and Bobby Kennedy – and his view of the city disappeared, so this was personal. But Cronkite was right – everyone hated the thing. It was a big fuck-you to the city, but this monstrosity was finished in 2001 – no one could stop Trump.

Kaplan puts that this way:

It’s so typical of Trump to view the rest of the world, even the official assembly of the world’s leaders, as a footnote to the saga of his own wealth.

But that’s not the point:

Trump’s remarks, which he read from notes, were brief and inconsequential. U.N. reform was the topic on the agenda, and Trump spoke of the need to “focus more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to ensure that no one member-state “shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden … militarily or financially.”

In that last line, he may have flashed a glimpse of his “America First” theme, which is expected to shine front and center in his longer address to the General Assembly – his first as president – on Tuesday.

In short, pay us big bucks for all we’ve done for you or we’re outta here. He’s said the same sort of thing to NATO of course. He’s a businessman, but Kaplan notes the UN folks aren’t:

The issues facing the leaders and delegates from the 193 member-states this year are especially varied and complex: terrorism, climate change, cyberattacks, refugees, North Korean missile and nuclear tests, the chaos across the Middle East and North Africa, Russian threats to Ukraine, Chinese expansionism. And the question on the minds of many is whether this new eccentric president will step into America’s traditional leadership role or retreat to a mix of military unilateralism and diplomatic isolation – and if he does take a stab at leadership, whether he has the slightest talent for it.

Monday’s ceremonies held no high promises, and not just because of Trump’s tepid welcome. Bureaucratic reform generally tops an agenda when the heads of an organization – whether national, international, or corporate – don’t know how to grasp the substance of their crises. Yes, the U.N. is an inefficient maze with diffuse and cumbersome procedures. But sleeker organizational charts and zero-based budgeting aren’t going to solve the problems that the United Nations was founded to solve.

Oh well. Trump will take his stab at leadership. He doesn’t have slightest talent for it – but he does have that giant building across the street. New Yorkers hated him for that. He laughed all the way to the bank. Perhaps this will be the same sort of thing,

Perhaps it won’t. New news shoves out old news stories, and as Margaret Hartmann reports, it seems something came up:

For some time former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have been vying for the undesirable title of Trump associate most likely to be taken down by the Russia probe. Manafort pulled ahead on Monday night with the release of two explosive reports that revealed he’s been intermittently under federal surveillance since 2014, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors recently told him that they plan to indict him.

So now the UN stuff doesn’t matter:

According to CNN, the FBI’s investigation of Manafort dates back to at least 2014, long before Trump was even a candidate. They originally became interested in Manafort due to his consulting work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former Ukrainian president who’s been accused of corruption.

The wiretap of Manafort had to be approved by the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, meaning federal judges found that there was probable cause to believe Manafort was an agent of a foreign power. Sources say that surveillance was eventually discontinued due to lack of evidence (and Manafort recently registered as a foreign agent retroactively.)

FISA warrants must be continually renewed, and Manafort was not under FBI surveillance when Donald Trump Jr. invited him to a meeting with several people connected to the Russian government in June 2016. But the FBI obtained a new FISA warrant that extended at least through early 2017 as part of its investigation into possible contacts between Trump officials and Russian operatives.

This is trouble:

Apparently, in their probe of Manafort, federal agents might have scooped up some information on the “boss” as well. Manafort was being wiretapped during a period when he was known to be in communication with Trump, and it’s possible that the president was picked up during the surveillance.

At the National Review, David French offers a quick take on this:

If the reports regarding Manafort are accurate (a big if), then this is disturbing news about the former campaign chair for the president of the United States. To obtain a FISA warrant the government has to bring forward evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that the wiretap target is the agent of a foreign power. That’s not a terribly high evidentiary threshold, but if there also exists sufficient evidence to indict Manafort (possibly for unrelated acts), then the stakes escalate considerably.

None of this means that Manafort is actually guilty of anything, but only the most mindless, tribal partisan would look at these developments with anything but concern and alarm. Potential corruption that close to the president – especially when connected with our nation’s chief geopolitical foe – is deeply problematic.

That’s a bit of understatement, given this sort of thing:

Hillary Clinton said in an interview that aired Monday that she wouldn’t rule out challenging the legitimacy of the 2016 election based on the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

“Democrats have said that they think there was Russian interference in the election, but that they’re not challenging the results of the election,” Fresh Air host Terry Gross asked Clinton in the interview. “As more and more information comes out about the depth of Russia’s interference in the election, do you think, at some point, that it would be legitimate to challenge the legitimacy of the election?”

“I don’t know if there’s any legal constitutional way to do that,” Clinton said. “I think you can raise questions.”

Gross returned to the point: “Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learn that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?”

“No. I would not. I would say -” Clinton began.

“You’re not going to rule it out?” Gross pressed.

“No, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Clinton said.

Forget that UN speech:

Clinton loosely compared the American election to the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, and the recent presidential election in Kenya, the results of which were tossed out over irregularities. Clinton pointed out that Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm closely aligned with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, was involved in all three contests.

“What happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and re-do it,” she said. “We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.”

Now we do – maybe.

How did it come to this? Eugene Robinson suggests this:

Hillary Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality-television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew – or thought we knew – about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing – and at least the attempted collusion – of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

Still, we might have known this was coming:

Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

Robinson argues that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political stuff somehow became obsolete:

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free-trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking – as is the contrast between what Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue – immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

But put that aside:

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

And in the land of the blind the big political stories that used to have legs, stories that people would obsess about for days, or weeks, or months, or years, really don’t matter that much any longer. They come and go. Forget Obamacare. Forget Trump telling the UN to pay us big bucks for all we’ve done for them or we’re outta there. Trump might go to jail. The last election could be overturned. Neither is likely, but now both are almost possible. And forget our two political parties – no one is paying attention to either of them anymore.

The good old days are gone. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders killed them. Now it’s just one damned thing after another. Get used to it.

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A Mid-Month Pause

There’s no Sunday evening column – it was time to drive south and visit with the family down there – long overdue. The world can wait. Carry on.

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The Man Who Creates the Truth

Tomorrow’s headlines today! Before he did all those famous old west drawings and paintings and bronze cowboys and all that, the artist Frederic Remington did sketches for magazines and newspapers, back when photography was still cumbersome and slow and expensive. He was the “cameraman” on the scene. Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York World in 1883 and he had his illustrators, and made a ton of money. News is better with pictures. William Randolph Hearst began looking for a New York newspaper to purchase and bought the New York Journal in 1895, and hired Remington. Hire the best – and from 1895 to about 1898, Hearst and Pulitzer tried to outdo each other with sensational stuff, much of which was nonsense. That was the golden age of yellow journalism – long before Drudge and Breitbart and the National Inquirer – but the Spanish-American War presented a problem. It didn’t look like there was going to be one. At one point Remington telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba and “There will be no war.” Hearst responded “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Hearst denied it all. There’s no evidence of any such telegrams – but it’s a good story. Hearst was going to publish tomorrow’s headlines today! Joseph Pulitzer would be left in the dust.

That epic battle is at the core of Citizen Kane – Orson Welles was the perfect hyper-aggressive Hearst, the man who would create the truth, damn it! And he would get damned rich doing it! Pierce Brosnan as James Bond stops a modern William Randolph Hearst – or maybe it’s Rupert Murdoch – in Tomorrow Never Dies – and it was to be thermonuclear war this time, to increase circulation, to create the truth and rule the world. The bad guy, a clearly psychopathic media mogul, even quotes William Randolph Hearst. It’s a hoot, even if all the echoes of Fox News are a bit disquieting. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes probably didn’t like the movie.

Tomorrow’s headlines today should be confined to satire, like this from Andy Borowitz:

In his most stunning deal yet with Democratic leaders, Donald Trump agreed on Friday to be impeached by the end of 2017.

Emerging from an Oval Office meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a beaming Trump touted the deal for his imminent removal from office.

“Chuck and Nancy and I got a deal done on impeachment,” Trump said. “It was a good deal and it was a fast deal.”

And he had his reasons:

Trump said that the Democrats had convinced him that agreeing to be impeached would make him soar in popularity. “People are going to love me for doing this,” Trump said. “They’re going to love it on all the channels.”

In a barb aimed at House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump said that the impeachment agreement was something he “never could have gotten done” with the Republican leadership.

“I went around and around with the Republicans for months on health care,” he said. “This meeting with Chuck and Nancy took, what, five minutes, and I could get back to watching TV.”

Somehow that could happen, but not really. Donald Trump doesn’t need the love of the American public THAT much. Or does he? Satire raises that question, but satire is not tomorrow’s headlines today. Leave that to William Randolph Hearst, or leave that to Facebook.

Seth Fiegerman and Dylan Byers run down the basics:

Facebook has yet another major controversy from its impact on the 2016 election, and this one cuts to the heart of how it makes money.

On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that it sold approximately $100,000 worth of ads during the presidential election cycle from inauthentic accounts and pages “likely operated out of Russia.”

The news comes amid ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Facebook, in particular, has spent much of this year trying to crack down on the spread of fake news after being heavily criticized for the role it may have played in influencing the U.S. election.

Cracking down on the spread of fake news is fine, but there’s this:

Who was behind the accounts that bought these ads? The accounts are said to have been created by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company or “troll farm” known for engaging in propaganda campaigns.

What exactly did the Russian-linked accounts buy on Facebook? Facebook says it found “roughly” 3,000 ads connected to 470 fake accounts and Facebook Pages. It was a mix of traditional ads and sponsored articles focused on divisive subjects for U.S. voters, including immigration, gun rights and LGBT issues.

How were these ads targeted? About 25% of the 3,000 ads were geographically targeted, according to Facebook. The company hasn’t revealed which areas were targeted.

Have we seen any of the ads yet? No, Facebook has not shared copies of the advertisements. Some tech leaders are calling on Facebook to release the ads.

Those are the basics, and this is Facebook’s dilemma:

First, it’s important to understand how Facebook sells ads. It has a self-service ad model: Businesses and individuals can easily select the type of ad, how much they want to spend on it, and which audience they want to target.

Facebook may work directly with big companies, media organizations and presidential campaigns on targeting certain ad purchases. But it does not work directly with each and every one of its millions of advertisers.

Facebook took in nearly $27 billion in ad revenue last year.

That’s a big chunk of change for an automated process:

On its website, Facebook says it typically reviews ads within 24 hours. It may ban ads for a long list of reasons, including promoting illegal products, adult content, profanity or engaging in discriminatory practices.

This doesn’t always work as intended. Facebook came under fire last year after a report found that an “ethnic affinities” targeting option could be used to discriminate against users in housing-related ads.

That’s because an algorithm reviews the ads – set it and forget it – and that’s the problem:

The ads placed by the Russian-linked accounts may not have violated those guidelines. But the use of a network of fraudulent accounts certainly breaks Facebook’s rules. Facebook says it continues to develop technical solutions for detecting fake accounts and pages.

They’ll review their algorithms. That’s it, but this is a problem:

Days after the U.S. election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he thought the idea that fake news stories on the social network influenced the election was “crazy.” But his company has spent much of this year trying to curb the spread of fake news.

They know they’re in trouble, and the New York Times’ Scott Shane gets specific about this:

The notice went out on Facebook last year, calling citizens of Twin Falls, Idaho, to an urgent meeting about the “huge upsurge of violence toward American citizens” by Muslim refugees who had settled there.

The inflammatory post, however, originated not in Idaho but in Russia. The meeting’s sponsor, an anti-immigrant page called “Secured Borders,” was one of hundreds of fake Facebook accounts created by a Russian company with Kremlin ties to spread vitriolic messages on divisive issues.

It was tomorrow’s headline today:

A report by the Russian media outlet RBC last March identified the Secured Borders page as the work of the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg firm that employs hundreds of so-called trolls to post material in support of Russian government policies. A Facebook official confirmed that Secured Borders was removed in the purge of Russian fakes.

The Secured Borders page, a search for archived images shows, spent months posing as an American activist group and spreading provocative messages on Facebook calling immigrants “scum” and “freeloaders,” linking refugees to crime and praising President Trump’s tough line on immigration. The page attracted more than 133,000 followers before it was shut down.

It also promoted the Aug. 27, 2016, meeting in Twin Falls, called “Citizens before refugees,” which was first reported by The Daily Beast. The call came amid incendiary claims linking Muslim refugees in Twin Falls to crime that circulated on far-right websites last year. In May, Alex Jones, of the conspiracy site Infowars.com, retracted a claim that the Twin Falls yogurt company Chobani, which had made a point of hiring refugees, had been “caught importing migrant rapists.”

Shawn Barigar, the mayor of Twin Falls, said that the City Council Chambers, where the supposed meeting was called on a Saturday, were closed that day and that officials did not recall any gathering.

The meeting wasn’t the point. The idea behind the meeting was more important. The 133,000 “followers” were more important. No one had to meet anywhere. They just had to vote.

Now add this:

A Russia-linked Facebook group attempted to organize a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Hillary Clinton rallies across Texas last November, three days before the election and months after Russian operatives used the social-media platform to organize an anti-refugee-resettlement protest in rural Idaho.

The group, called Heart of Texas, had over 225,000 followers as of last summer. It was shut down last week as part of Facebook’s takedown of accounts and pages “affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia,” a Facebook spokesman told Business Insider on Wednesday.

They attempted to organize secessionist rallies too, but managed to misspell “Texas” so often that didn’t work out. English isn’t their first language, but people will click on anything:

Russian-funded covert propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million, according to analysis by an expert on the social-media giant’s complex advertising systems. That means up to 28 percent of American adults were swept in by the campaign.

They might have been no more than curious, but the clicks were there. That’s how William Randolph Hearst sold newspapers. People are curious. Buy his newspaper. He’d provide the war. These guys would provide a win for Donald Trump.

These guys, however, couldn’t even spell Texas. They were amateurs. This shouldn’t have mattered, but they may have had help. At Vanity Fair, Chris Smith covers that very real possibility:

The headlines were about Facebook admitting it had sold ad space to Russian groups trying to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. But investigators shrugged: they’d known or assumed for months that Facebook, as well as Twitter and other social-media platforms, were a tool used in the Kremlin’s campaign. “The only thing that’s surprising is that more revelations like this haven’t come out sooner,” said Congressman Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And I expect that more will.”

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh.

Someone smells a rat, one very specific rat:

Probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner told Steven Bertoni of Forbes. “We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff… We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch.”

Someone should have warned young Jared about boasting:

Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.”

Jared, Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer his patron and the billionaire who funds Breitbart News, all connected to Cambridge Analytica? It all falls into place, and there’s that other guy too:

Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, referring to a mid-2000s proposal Manafort pitched to a Russian oligarch. “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”

This was not amateur hour:

Analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

That’s the question:

“Are we connecting the dots? I’m finding more dots,” said Quigley, who recently traveled to Prague and Budapest to learn more about the history of Russian influence campaigns. “I believe there was coordination, and I’m going to leave it at that for now.”

Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer his patron and the billionaire who funds Breitbart News, and Paul Manafort, should be worried now. Perhaps Donald Trump should be worried too – unless Andy Borowitz is right and he has agreed to be impeached, and then go back to watching television shows about himself and tweeting about Rosie O’Donnell. He does find her repulsive.

It may be time for that:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are now in possession of Russian-linked ads run on Facebook during the presidential election, after they obtained a search warrant for the information.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

The walls are closing in:

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

In those briefings, Facebook spoke only in generalities about the ad buys, leaving some committee members feeling frustrated with Facebook’s level of cooperation.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN last week that Facebook had not turned over the ads to Congress. Warner has also called Facebook’s review “the tip of the iceberg,” and suggested that more work needs to be done in order to ascertain the full scope of Russia’s use of social media.

When a senator talks about the “the tip of the iceberg” Jared Kushner should worry, and so should his father-in-law.

That might explain this:

A small group of White House lawyers this summer urged that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his White House role amid a broadening probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion.

Some of the lawyers worried that the presence of Kushner, a senior adviser with a broad domestic and foreign policy portfolio, created potential legal complications for Trump, while the probe threatened to limit Kushner’s ability to perform his job, these people said.

Kushner had several interactions with Russian officials in the campaign and transition that have drawn interest from investigators, and some White House lawyers warned that even casual discussions between him and Trump could spark additional scrutiny.

That additional scrutiny just arrived, as they knew it would:

Other people familiar with the Trump lawyers’ debate said Kushner’s presence in the White House created risks that were logical discussion topics for the legal team as it sought to minimize risks for Trump amid a widening investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The lawyers “would have been dummies” not to consider walling the president off from another person who would become a major subject for the special counsel’s investigation, said one person briefed on the discussion.

Donald Trump would have none of that and Kushner is still there. Who’s the dummy?

That’s obvious, but young Jared Kushner knew exactly what William Randolph Hearst knew. Publish tomorrow’s headlines today! Create the truth and rule the world! And that’s far easier now. One need not be a psychopathic media mogul with lots of newspapers, or these days a cable news channel of one’s own. Facebook will do and the Russians will do the grunt-work. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

That seems to be what happened here, again.

Posted in Russian Meddling in 2016 Election, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boss from Hell

Everyone knows the boss from hell, or at least the Human Resources Manager from hell, from the comic strip Dilbert – Scott Adams has been at that since 1989 – the clueless Pointy-Haired Boss and all the rest. Adams also correctly predicted that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. He then predicted that Trump would win the general election in a huge landslide. He was wrong about that, but Trump did win. Men would feel emasculated by the nomination of a woman for president – “If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”

There was that, and Trump’s persuasion skills. Hillary Clinton had none, and Conor Friedersdorf offered a complete analysis of Adams’ views on Trump, including what is obvious now:

As Adams tells it, Trump targeted voters who’d be attracted rather than repelled by calls for policies that would inflict great suffering; he told those voters things that he didn’t really mean to gain their emotional trust; and all along, he probably intended to go to Washington and do something else. That sounds a lot like the way that Trump voters describe the career politicians who they hate: emotionally manipulative liars who will say anything to get elected, get to Washington, and betray their base by moving left on immigration.

That didn’t matter:

Adams hypothesizes that Trump would not back down even if he were in the wrong and innocents were hurt as a consequence, because it might hurt him personally.

And that’s a good thing:

Adams’s case for Trump amounts to this: Trump is a master persuader, as evidenced by his success manipulating voters with morally odious positions that he didn’t believe and never intended to execute – but Americans shouldn’t be bothered by the vileness or the hucksterism, which Adams regards as mostly harmless, because it’s in Trump’s personal interests to be successful, and as Adams later argued, Americans should want a guy who will succeed in the White House more than a guy who is moral or honest.

In short, Americans wanted that boss from hell, out for himself and no one else, willing to inflict the maximum pain and humiliation on anyone who does anything to make him look bad, even those who have been doing their best to be loyal to him. It seems that Evil Human Resources Manager in the comic strip, drawn as a small devil with horns, and a mean and overweight small housecat, gleefully crushing the souls of those hapless cubicle workers, is pretty cool – the real hero in Adams’ ongoing tales. Who knew?

Adams knew. Success is everything. A guy who is moral or honest is a loser. America wanted a winner. A guy who was manipulating voters with morally odious positions that he didn’t believe and never intended was a pretty damned cool guy after all. He was a winner – and Trump did betray his base by moving left on immigration. So what? Winners do that.

Winners also leave chaos in their wake, as the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters chronicles here:

President Trump came under withering attack on Thursday from some of his strongest supporters, who were outraged and unforgiving about his decision to set aside, for now, a fight over building the border wall he has long promised as part of a deal with Democrats on legislation to protect young, undocumented immigrants.

The tentative arrangement, which the president hashed out over dinner on Wednesday night at the White House with the top-ranking congressional Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, set off accusations of betrayal and renewed nagging doubts about whether Mr. Trump was in jeopardy of alienating some of his most ardent backers on the right.

No promise was more central to his campaign than building the border wall. And no constituency was more passionate in defending Mr. Trump’s pledge than the conservatives who believed he would be uncompromising in his approach toward illegal immigration.

Well, as a winner above all else, he gleefully screwed them, and they weren’t happy:

“At this point, who doesn’t want Trump impeached?” said the conservative writer Ann Coulter as she took to Twitter to excoriate the president. “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence,” added Ms. Coulter, who met recently with the president in the Oval Office and warned him of the perils of not keeping his word on immigration, and most notably the wall.

Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host who has until now been sparing in her criticism of the president, told her listeners on Thursday that the political cost Mr. Trump and the Republican Party would pay would be steep. “He’s going to get creamed for this,” she said, reminding her audience of all the times during the campaign that Mr. Trump chanted – and his crowds repeated – “Build the Wall!”

Ms. Ingraham mocked Mr. Trump’s statement on Thursday that parts of the current border fence were being reinforced under his direction. “We’re doing a lot of renovation,” he said before leaving Washington to tour hurricane damage in Florida. “I don’t remember,” Ms. Ingraham said, “hearing ‘Repair the fence! Repair the fence! Repair the fence!'”

That’s brutal, but pointless. Donald Trump doesn’t answer to Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham. He doesn’t answer to the American people either. As Scott Adams noted, the cool thing about Donald Trump is that he answers only to himself.

Trump’s base should be happy with that, but they’re still working that out:

Now, twice in one week, Mr. Trump has gone around Republicans to reach a compromise with Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi. This week it was to agree in principle to move forward with legislation that resolves the legal status of the 800,000 immigrants who came here illegally as children. Last week it was an agreement to forego a fight over raising the debt ceiling to ensure quick passage of hurricane relief funding.

On conservative talk radio programs Thursday morning, listeners called in to voice their disapproval. Some said Mr. Trump had confirmed what they suspected all along about the insincerity of his conservative convictions. Others said the president, a self-proclaimed master negotiator, had been rolled by the Democrats. The comments mostly added up to a damning conclusion: Mr. Trump had tricked his voters.

“I always figured Trump would go Schwarzenegger on us,” said one caller into the Hugh Hewitt program, invoking the former California governor whom many conservatives believed sold them out.

And meanwhile, in Washington:

Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is perhaps the leading voice in Congress advocating the hard line on immigration that Mr. Trump has voiced, predicted that the president’s base is “blown up, destroyed, irreparable.”

“No promise is credible,” Mr. King wrote on Twitter.

No, give them time to process this – they’ll come around – but Steve King is part of a larger group that Trump left hung out to dry:

What many more Republicans seemed to find so objectionable was that Mr. Trump would so brazenly cut deals with Democrats.

His sudden embrace of politicians that Republicans have spent years fighting in intense political combat – especially Ms. Pelosi, whom Republicans have made into an avatar for the liberal, coastal elite – sowed confusion and seemed to raise questions about how effectively Republicans could continue to demonize the people they assumed were their sworn enemies.

“Republicans have spent so much time and money targeting Nancy Pelosi as the enemy over the last few cycles, the idea that you’re now going do a deal with her has to rub people the wrong way,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican consultant who has worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. “Doesn’t it hurt all these Republican congressmen who want to use her as the liberal foil in their campaigns?”

“It is just confusing,” Mr. Schriefer added.

Get used to it. As president, Donald Trump is the de facto head of the Republican Party – their boss. Republicans just discovered that they now work for the boss from hell. Somewhere, Scott Adams is smiling.

Donald Trump did what he did, for himself. That’s what a boss from hell does, but as the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker notes, no one is quite sure what the hell he actually did:

At 6:11 Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted that despite news reports to the contrary, he and Democratic congressional leaders had reached “no deal” on protections for young undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

At 6:20 a.m., after a night of fretting by his supporters, he tweeted that the big, beautiful border wall he had long promised “will continue to be built.”

Then, at 6:28 a.m., he tweeted a duo of missives outlining the very deal he claimed didn’t exist.

Confusion reigned.

The tweets underscore the sense of chaos the president brings to bear on just about everything he encounters – a Midas touch of low-grade uncertainty he seems to sow in others and exhibit himself while operating comfortably from within the maelstrom.

Low-grade uncertainty was the “order” of the day:

Often, Trump’s underlings, friends, foes and allies never know quite where he stands – in part because of the president’s penchant for telling his immediate audience exactly what they want to hear in any given moment. People who meet with the president frequently leave buoyed, an optimism punctured by a nagging question mere hours later: What just happened?

That was a reasonable question to ask:

On Wednesday evening, as news of the agreement trickled out, Hill staffers sat glued to Twitter trying to discern that very query as aides to both sides scrambled to explain what, in the end, turned out to be disagreements that were largely semantics.

Referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects the dreamers, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter after 10 p.m., writing, “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”

This prompted Schumer’s spokesman to reply to her tweet with a further explanation: “The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement,” he wrote.

Which is it? Go fish. And try to make sense of this:

On Thursday morning, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump traveled to Florida to view damage caused by Hurricane Irma, a White House spokeswoman further muddied the already confused situation, saying: “The president has been clear that there will be no amnesty” before adding that the administration’s plan for immigration changes “could include legal citizenship over time.”

Which is it? No one will ever know:

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” he wrote early Thursday morning. “They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”

Once in Florida, he weighed in again, saying, “No, we’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

On the flight back to Washington, he reiterated that he still plans to build a wall – Democrats, he said, “can’t obstruct the wall” – even if it isn’t part of the DACA deal, and he said he has Republican support for his plans.

“My relationship with Republicans is excellent,” he said. “Many of them agree with what I am doing.”

That was news to them, but all will be well, as Vanity Fair’s Tina Nguyen reports this:

With his base apoplectic, Trump’s most reliable cheerleaders strained to defend his latest ideological contortion. Steve Doocy, a host of Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends, suggested that the wall was just a metaphor. “Congressman, has the wall almost become symbolic?” he asked Jason Chaffetz. “I know the president ran on it. It was a mantra. But at the same time, border crossings have gone down dramatically and you were talking about how the wall exists in certain forms and there’s money to go to it, that has to come from Congress, but do you think we’re going to get to the point where maybe they won’t build the wall?”

Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, another guest on Fox & Friends, echoed the sentiment. “At the end of the day, Trump may be moving to a position in which he says the wall is symbolic,” he said, suggesting that Trump could put together a deal that enhances border control without a large, physical wall. “What people voted for is this, they voted for a principle and the principle is we can’t fix domestic immigration without stopping the porous border in which, in a sense, people keep streaming across.”

Donald Trump watches Fox & Friends every day and almost every day tweets about what is said there – the British secret service wiretapping Trump Tower as a favor to Obama and whatnot – so he now knows his base is with him, and so is the cartoonist:

Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert and an ardent Trump supporter, wrote a long blog post arguing that Trump was actually employing a “persuasion technique” to bring the conversation towards enhanced border security, and that “build the wall” was simply a conceptual campaign slogan.

Give them time. They’ll come around. His base always does. His base has already come around. The wall was always a metaphor. They knew that. They just didn’t know that they knew that. Now, suddenly, they know that they always knew that. Donald Trump is safe.

But he’s still the boss from hell. The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman chronicle that:

Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said he should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.

The president attributed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation – a move Mr. Trump believes was the moment his administration effectively lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.

Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.

Yes, the boss from hell, out for himself and no one else, is willing to inflict the maximum pain and humiliation on anyone who does anything to make him look bad, even those who have been doing their best to be loyal to him, and that’s what happened here:

The Oval Office meeting, details of which have not previously been reported, shows the intensity of Mr. Trump’s emotions as the Russia investigation gained steam and how he appeared to immediately see Mr. Mueller’s appointment as a looming problem for his administration. It also illustrates the depth of antipathy Mr. Trump has had for Mr. Sessions – one of his earliest campaign supporters – and how the president interprets “disloyalty” within his circle of advisers.

Mr. Trump ended up rejecting Mr. Sessions’ May resignation letter after senior members of his administration argued that dismissing the attorney general would only create more problems for a president who had already fired an FBI director and a national security adviser. Mr. Trump once again, in July, told aides he wanted to remove Mr. Sessions, but for a second time didn’t take action.

Trump’s staff talked him down – don’t do anything stupid – but Trump got his revenge anyway:

Mr. Sessions played a prominent role announcing the end of the Obama-era program that provided protection to the children of undocumented immigrants, only to see his boss backtrack on the policy. On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump confirmed he had reached a deal with Democrats to provide protections for the so-called Dreamers.

That was twisting the knife, but the narrative of the original meeting is more telling:

The president’s outburst came in the middle of an Oval Office meeting that Mr. Trump had with top advisers on May 17 to discuss candidates to take over the FBI after the president fired its director, James B. Comey, earlier that month. In addition to Mr. Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence; Donald F. McGahn II; the White House counsel; and several other aides attended the meeting.

In the middle of the meeting, Mr. McGahn received a phone call from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been overseeing the Russia investigation since Mr. Sessions recused himself from the inquiry months earlier. Mr. Sessions had stepped aside after it was revealed he had not provided accurate testimony to Congress about his meetings with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.

In the telephone call to Mr. McGahn, Mr. Rosenstein said he had decided to appoint Mr. Mueller to be a special counsel for the investigation. Congress had been putting pressure on Mr. Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to put distance between the Trump administration and the Russia investigation, and just the day before The New York Times had revealed that Mr. Trump had once asked Mr. Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

When the phone call ended, Mr. McGahn relayed the news to the president and his aides. Almost immediately, Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said that he should resign.

This was the boss from hell:

An emotional Mr. Sessions told the president he would resign and left the Oval Office. That evening, as the Justice Department publicly announced the appointment of Mr. Mueller, the attorney general wrote a brief resignation letter to the president that was later sent to the White House.

Or this wasn’t the boss from hell:

A person familiar with the events raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions had become emotional because the impact of his recusal was becoming clear.

In short, Sessions knew that he had screwed up, by following the law in such things, recusing himself as required.

That’s one view, not that it matters much:

For Mr. Sessions, the aggressiveness with which Mr. Trump has sought his removal was a blow. The son of a general store owner in a small town in Alabama, Mr. Sessions had long wanted to be the nation’s top federal law enforcement official or to serve in another top law enforcement or judicial post. He earned a reputation in the Senate as someone tough on immigration, and was the first senator to back Mr. Trump in the presidential campaign.

That didn’t matter:

The president spent months stewing about the recusal. In a July 19 interview with The Times, Mr. Trump said he never would have appointed Mr. Sessions to be attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump called the decision “very unfair to the president.”

Days after the Times interview, Mr. Trump told aides he wanted to replace Mr. Sessions. Some of the president’s aides, not sure if Mr. Trump really wanted the attorney general gone or was just working through his anger, were able to delay the firing until the president’s anger passed.

But Mr. Trump continued his public attacks in the days that followed.

And with this DACA business he finally got his revenge:

The president agreed to terminate the program, and on Sept. 5 Mr. Sessions stood alone at a lectern – a moment that seemed to be a significant victory for the attorney general.

But his satisfaction was fleeting. Mr. Trump quickly undercut Mr. Sessions in a tweet by saying he would reconsider whether or not to end the program, leading the attorney general to tell allies that he was frustrated that the president had muddled months of work leading to the announcement of the new policy.

Somewhere, Scott Adams was smiling. This is the boss from hell that America wanted in the White House. Trump’s base will love it too. Inflict great suffering. That’s what winners do.

There’s a vicarious thrill in that – Trump’s base feels that thrill every day – but Scott Adams should not be confused with the late Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and all its sequels:

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover…

There you have it. The second Adams says, when one looks at the vast odd random oddness of everything in the universe, in detail, don’t panic. Things will be fine, somehow. If so, when looking the vast random oddness of the Trump presidency, one should not panic. Things will be fine, somehow, even if no one now can see how.

On the other hand, there’s this from the Hitchhiker’s Guide:

What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can’t move with no hope of rescue: Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far.

Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far (which, given your current circumstances, seems more likely): Consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.

Okay. Go ahead. Panic. America has the boss from hell.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Edge of Socialism

No one should be surprised by the popularity of Bernie Sanders, even if he calls himself a “democratic socialist” – which sounds kind of scary. He’s not a Democrat. He never was one. He just ran as one, a matter of convenience more than anything else – or maybe because the Democrats are really “democratic socialists” who are just afraid of that second word there. Words matter. If Bernie Sanders had won the 2016 Democratic nomination that second word there would have haunted him. Donald Trump, or any other Republican nominee, would have pointed at him, smiled, and said that word – socialist – and the election would have been over before it even began. Bernie Sanders would have had nowhere to hide.

Much of this is nonsense. Jonathan Cohn had already explained that this sort socialism is not all that scary:

The label socialist isn’t as toxic as it was a generation ago, but the concept remains decidedly less popular among the population as a whole. Socialism – as commonly understood by Americans – means widespread government ownership of business. A candidate or a party seemingly calling for that would alienate most of the public – even in a lefty, earthy-crunchy state like Vermont.

That, however, was not what Sanders was talking about:

Democratic socialism, as generally conceived in the U.S., is a milder, more aspirational form of the ideology. Democratic socialists might not recoil at the thought of government running large industries, but they don’t actively pursue that goal. Instead, they focus on decidedly less radical objectives – like making the welfare state more generous, giving workers more power, limiting the influence of money on politics and policing the practices of business more closely.

You can see that agenda in the initiatives Sanders has proposed and the causes he has championed. He’s a longtime supporter of universal health care in what some would say is its purest form: A single-payer system, in which the government provides insurance directly rather than subsidizing private insurers. He’s called for making taxpayer-funded child care available to all parents, right up through kindergarten. He supports breaking up the big banks and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change. He opposes trade deals that lack what he considers adequate protection for labor. And he supports the public financing of campaigns for federal office.

Some of these ideas are more popular than others. How you feel about them will depend, inevitably, on your own ideological predispositions and, to some extent, how you interpret available evidence on their effectiveness. But none of these ideas is loopy. Most Western democracies have some of these policies, while some Western democracies have all of them. A few have produced such strikingly positive results – variations on single-payer work very well in France and Taiwan, for example – that it’s hard to understand why they don’t get more serious hearings in the U.S.

(Actually, the U.S. does have a form of single-payer health insurance. It’s for the elderly, it’s called Medicare, and it’s incredibly popular – which is one more reason many people think it should be available to everybody.)

That means that Sanders was, at the time, not that far out:

Clinton is a mainstream liberal, and these days, mainstream liberals tend to want the same things that Sanders does – a stronger welfare state, more regulation of business, higher wages for the lower and middle classes, action on climate change. The question is how aggressively and enthusiastically she promotes these causes, via rhetoric and actual policy proposals.

The answer to that question became obvious. Hillary Clinton did not promote any of that aggressively and enthusiastically. She has turned out to be a careful politician, one who knows how to offend the most people the least. She was sort of with Sanders on all of this, but careful not to come off as some sort of wild-eyed radical. She was the calm and steady one – all this stuff should be done, perhaps, but carefully and slowly. Things could get out of hand. And of course that left the passion to Bernie Sanders – but at least she wasn’t a socialist. She had that going for her. It wasn’t enough.

She had been too careful. That was apparent back in April 2009 when a Rasmussen poll showed this:

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

But that can be subdivided:

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better. …

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans – by an 11-to-1 margin – favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism.

That word – socialism – was already losing its punch, because of that other word, its opposite:

It is interesting to compare the new results to an earlier survey in which 70% of Americans prefer a free-market economy. The fact that a “free-market economy” attracts substantially more support than “capitalism” may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets.

Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

Things had changed. No one should have been surprised by the popularity of Bernie Sanders. He’s always had a base, one that excludes the investor class, the Wall Street folks who have always been fine with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and excludes Republicans of course. His base may be larger than anyone supposes.

There was a flashpoint for all this – Obamacare – socialized medicine – but that wasn’t so:

PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections…

By selecting “government takeover” as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy. The phrase is simply not true.

Of course it wasn’t true. Obamacare offered light central planning of a system that subsidized the purchase of now-standardized healthcare policies from the for-profit insurance industry – paid for by slightly higher taxes on the rich. It was an awkward half-free-market hybrid that also included expanding Medicaid to cover those who couldn’t afford even the subsidized policies, but it worked, and is working. Half the nation knows that. Poll after poll shows that less than a quarter of the nation thinks the rich have been treated unfairly in all this.

That makes any replacement for Obamacare a hard sell. What’s the alternative? Why is this or that alternative better? That calls for deep policy discussions about the details of funding, and just what would be funded, and why – which is a discussion of the proper role of government in relation to personal responsibility, and the relationship of personal responsibility to the social contract, if there is such a thing.

It’s complicated. Trump won the election partly on the promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He had a solidly Republican House and Senate, but every alternative they came up with was loathsome. Twenty or thirty million Americans would lose their health insurance, and the cost of health insurance for everyone else would skyrocket. Their alternatives were not socialism, but so what? They knew they were pushing nonsense. Their last alternative died in the Senate. They couldn’t find even fifty Republican votes for it. Vice President Pence was waiting in the wings to break any fifty-vote tie, as vice presidents can do. He left early. Donald Trump had insulted John McCain one too many times – or McCain knew nonsense when he saw it. He cast the deciding Republican vote against that last alternative. There are things worse than socialism, or at least worse than socialized medicine.

That was the end of it, but not quite, as Talking Points Memo’s Alice Ollstein reports here:

After a year of backroom, closed-door, GOP-only meetings on health care, and a bitter, partisan floor fight over repealing the Affordable Care Act that eventually collapsed, senators from both parties came together to hold nearly half-a-dozen public hearings and hammer out a bill to stabilize Obamacare’s vulnerable insurance exchanges by the end of September.

But beneath the bipartisan bonhomie, there is trouble in paradise.

In exchange for funding Obamacare’s subsidies to insurers that cover care of low-income people with severe health needs, Republicans are demanding that some of the ACA’s protections and mandates be waived – and have suggested rolling back the requirement that every insurance plan cover essential health benefits like maternity care and mental health treatment.

They seem to think that the now-standardized healthcare policies required from the for-profit insurance industry are socialized medicine – socialism. They’ll have none of that, and the Democrats think they’re being stupid:

Senate Democrats say they’re open to some increased “flexibility” but worry that allowing too many regulatory rollbacks will lead to more expensive and worse quality health coverage for millions of people. Though many proposals have been tossed onto the table over the past few weeks, the key battle is currently over loosening the rules around Obamacare’s “state innovation” waivers – which states obtain from the federal government to test different health care systems. Some states, including Alaska, have used these waivers to set up reinsurance programs, which have brought down the number of uninsured residents and lowered costs. But other states are seeking waivers for plans that health care experts say would create “barriers to enrollment.”

“Flexibility needs to increase health care for people, not decrease it. If it’s flexibility to take health care away, that’s not something I would support,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told TPM. “I believe that health care is a basic human right and we’re going to make sure that everyone has health care.”

Perhaps that’s socialism, but so what? Still, that’s the sticking point:

During simultaneous Senate hearings on health care Tuesday morning, Republican senators and their conservative guest speakers proposed scrapping or loosening a host of Obamacare’s core provisions – from age ratings that limit how much insurance companies can charge older patients, to the individual mandate, to the requirement that all plans cover essential health benefits.

Without a concession or a win they can point to, GOP aides and lawmakers have said, it would be hard to get their caucus on board with funding the cost-sharing reduction subsidies or taking other steps to prop up Obamacare’s marketplaces.

“To get a Republican president and a Republican House and a Republican Senate just to vote for more money won’t happen in the next two or three weeks unless there’s some restructuring,” [Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chair of the committee crafting the stabilization bill] Alexander said.

But Democrats on those committees remain staunchly opposed to the suggested changes, and said the “guardrails” built into the ACA must be preserved at all costs. The two sides are currently at an impasse.

This is a standoff. The Republican position is clear. Get rid of all the one-size-fits-all standards and rules and mechanisms in the current system – the socialism in it – or we’ll sabotage the current system and ruin everything for everybody. No one has a “right” to anything. That’s socialism. The Democratic position is also clear. Health care is a basic human right and we’re going to make sure that everyone has health care. Call it socialism if you want. We call it common sense and common decency.

This was the moment Bernie Sanders had been waiting for, and as David Weigel reports, he seized the moment:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would expand Medicare into a universal health insurance program with the backing of at least 15 Democratic senators – a record level of support for an idea that had been relegated to the fringes during the last Democratic presidency.

“This is where the country has got to go,” Sanders said in an interview at his Senate office. “Right now, if we want to move away from a dysfunctional, wasteful, bureaucratic system into a rational health-care system that guarantees coverage to everyone in a cost-effective way, the only way to do it is Medicare-for-All.”

He has a plan:

Sanders’s bill, the Medicare for All Act of 2017, has no chance of passage in a Republican-run Congress. But after months of behind-the-scenes meetings and a public pressure campaign, the bill is already backed by most of the senators seen as likely 2020 Democratic candidates – if not by most senators facing tough reelection battles in 2018.

The bill would revolutionize America’s health-care system, replacing it with a public system that would be paid for by higher taxes. Everything from emergency surgery to prescription drugs, from mental health to eye care, would be covered, with no co-payments. Americans younger than 18 would immediately obtain “universal Medicare cards,” while Americans not currently eligible for Medicare would be phased into the program over four years. Employer-provided health care would be replaced, with the employers paying higher taxes but no longer on the hook for insurance.

Private insurers would remain, with fewer customers, to pay for elective treatments such as cosmetic surgery – a system similar to that in Australia, which President Trump has praised for having a “much better” insurance regimen than the United States.

But the market-based changes of the Affordable Care Act would be replaced as Medicare becomes the country’s universal insurer. Doctors would be reimbursed by the government; providers would sign a yearly participation agreement with Medicare to remain with the system.

That’s the plan, and the Republicans pounced:

Republicans, bruised and exhausted by a failed campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, were giddy about the chance to attack Democrats and Sanders. At Tuesday’s leadership news conference, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a medical doctor, crowed that Sanders’s bill had become “the litmus test for the liberal left” and that Americans would reject any costly plan for universal insurance coverage.

In short, this is socialism, and expensive socialism at that. Americans hate that sort of thing, and of course there was the ghost of the careful and cautious Hillary Clinton fighting against him:

In 2016, when Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, high cost estimates and the idea of wiping out private insurers kept many Democrats from embracing universal health care. While support for Sanders’s proposal has risen from zero to fifteen, several Senate Democrats are proposing alternate plans for Medicare or Medicaid buy-ins, and Democratic leaders caution that their party will take no one-size-fits-all position.

“I don’t think it’s a litmus test,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of Medicare for All. “I think to support the idea that it captures is that we want to have as many people as possible, everybody, covered, and I think that’s something that we all embrace.”

In short, this is aspirational. Take Bernie Sanders seriously, but no one takes Bernie Sanders literally. No one ever has.

That may change:

Many supporters of Sanders have contradicted Pelosi, portraying his plan as popular – 57 percent of Americans support Medicare for All, according to Kaiser Health News – and efficient. Our Revolution, founded by Sanders, has urged Democrats to sign on; Justice Democrats, created after the election to challenge Democrats in primaries if they bucked progressive values, has asked supporters to call their senators until they endorse the bill. And a web ad paid for by Sanders’s 2018 Senate campaign, asking readers to “co-sponsor” his bill, attracted more than half a million names.

America may be edging toward socialism, or at least democratic socialism, after all.

Jonathan Chait throws cold water on that:

The sight of 15 Senate Democrats, including many of the party’s likely presidential contenders, co-sponsoring Bernie Sanders’s single-payer health-care bill may look like a momentous step. “What that means,” writes Jake Tapper, “is that with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden, every top tier(ish) 2020 Democrat is now on board with a policy proposal that Clinton said less than two years ago would ‘never, ever come to pass.'”

But this image of progress only holds true if you imagine the process as a series of continuous steps. In reality, single payer has always been, and remains, a political dilemma that nobody has been able to resolve, and there is no evidence the resolution has grown any easier. What looks like a large step forward is actually a party edging closer to a cliff it has no intention of going over.

The problem is structural:

The barrier to single payer is that the American health-care system has been built, by accident, around employer-based insurance. The rhetoric of single payer concentrates its moral emphasis on people who lack insurance at all. (“Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right?” writes Sanders today.) But the barrier to single-payer health care is the people who already have coverage. Designing a single-payer system means not only covering the uninsured but financing the cost of moving the 155 million Americans who have employer-based insurance onto Medicare.

That is not a detail to be worked out. It is the entire problem. The impossibility of this barrier is why Lyndon Johnson gave up on trying to pass a universal health-care bill and instead confined his legislation to the elderly (who mostly did not get insurance through employers), and why Barack Obama left the employer-based system intact and created alternate coverage for non-elderly people outside it.

In theory, the transition could be done without hurting anybody. The money workers and their employers pay to insurance companies would be converted into taxes. But this means solving two enormous political obstacles. First, most people who have employer-based coverage like it and don’t want to change. Second, higher taxes are unpopular. Yes, in an imaginary, rational world, people could be reassured that Medicare will be as good as what they have, and the taxes will merely replace the premiums they’re already paying. In reality, people are deeply loss-averse and distrustful of politicians.

There’s no getting around that.

There is nothing in Sanders’ rhetoric that indicates he even recognizes the shape of the political problem. Instead he employs the classic populist technique of imagining the people as a whole standing united around an obvious solution, and only the machinations of an invidious elite can thwart them…

There are ways around the problem. Mostly they involve boring, incremental reforms that fall well short of a real single-payer plan: lowering the age at which people can buy in to Medicare, creating a public plan on the exchanges, perhaps creating ways to encourage employers to cover their workforce through Medicare or a public plan.

That is boring stuff, but that’s life:

Obama himself said many times that, if he were starting a health-care system from scratch, he would prefer a single-payer system. Sanders’ single-payer bill is vague enough that the Democrats co-sponsoring it are really doing nothing more than saying the same thing Obama did: A single-payer plan would be nice, in a world that looks nothing like the one we inhabit.

That’s depressing – reality often is – but Josh Marshall goes the other way:

An effective politics needs a horizon that voters look toward. It’s “horizonal.” Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal – John Kennedy’s New Frontier – Ronald Reagan’s tax cut and “A rising tide lifts all boats” – Bill Clinton’s “putting people first” health plan in 1992 – yes, Donald Trump’s wall and making America great again. John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 had no horizon. They were mired in details or in “I’m with HER” and “stronger together” identity politics.

Medicare for All is a horizonal demand. It satisfies a basic need and does so by looking beyond the corrupt, meretricious system we now have. The activity of private insurance companies symbolizes much that is wrong with contemporary capitalism. You don’t have to be a left-winger from Park Slope to hate these companies. Believe me: a lot of those people who voted for Trump (whom the liberal elite dismiss as racists and misogynists) hate insurance companies.

This, then, is a good idea:

While Medicare for All would cause an upheaval in the health insurance markets, it is actually based on expanding a system that works and that has remained intact for over fifty years. It’s incremental in its own way. It is also very easy to understand, while most of the incremental reforms I’ve seen require a degree in healthcare economics to comprehend and rarely seem to apply to “you.”

Sanders’ and the fifteen co-sponsors’ support of Medicare for All – for its potential political pitfalls – is a step forward for a Democratic Party that has been mired in think-tank incrementalism and identity politics. It gives them something to talk about that an average voter and not just a policy wonk can understand.

Consider this Bernie’s revenge. Hillary Clinton turned out to be a careful politician, one who knows how to offend the most people the least. She was careful not to come off as some sort of wild-eyed radical. She was the calm and steady one – all this stuff should be done, perhaps, but carefully and slowly. Things could get out of hand. She left the passion to Bernie Sanders – but at least she wasn’t a socialist. She had that going for her. It wasn’t enough, but America may be edging toward socialism, or at least democratic socialism, after all. Give them something to talk about that an average voter and not just a policy wonk can understand – something useful to them but not quite impossible. They’ll catch fire. After all, there is what Captain Jack Sparrow said at the end of the first pirate movie. “Bring me that horizon!”

Everyone loves a pirate.

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Intervention Time

Interventions seldom go well, as with Natasha Lyonne as Megan Bloomfield in But I’m a Cheerleader – a hoot of a movie. Megan is a sweet young thing, but her parents realize she’s kind of a lesbian, so they sit her down for an intervention. Out of “love and concern” they tell her they’re sending her off to an odd place that specializes in gay-conversion therapy, run by a harridan in pink who talks about men and women’s proper roles, endlessly. It’s like being at a Values Voters convention run by Michele Bachmann pointing at pictures of sexy Sarah Palin – but putting young gay men and young gay women together in endless excruciating seminars backfires. Soon there are pockets of solidarity. Megan finally runs off with Graham, a rather pleasant young mannish dyke, and they’re both quite happy, finally. Megan is a lesbian. So what? She should live and be happy. The original intervention was stupid. It wasn’t worth a try. Their daughter is who she is. Deal with it.

It’s the same with Donald Trump, even if he isn’t a lesbian. Out of “love and concern” it was time for an intervention:

Congress is putting a bipartisan squeeze on President Donald Trump to condemn white supremacists and commit his administration’s resources to combating domestic terrorism by neo-Nazis and other racist groups.

A day after the Senate easily passed legislation condemning last month’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the House passed it on a voice vote Tuesday evening.

The House version was introduced last week by Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.), a conservative freshman who represents Charlottesville, and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.). It has the backing of Virginia’s entire delegation of seven Republicans and four Democrats.

Now that the House has cleared the Senate measure, it will land on Trump’s desk to sign or veto.

He may veto the thing just because it pisses him off – no one tells HIM what to do – but they have boxed him in:

Though resolutions are often passed to offer the sense of the House or Senate on various issues, they rarely head to the president for consideration. But backers of this measure structured it as a “joint resolution,” a move ensuring that passage would require Trump to weigh in on an issue that has dogged his presidency for weeks.

They also want action:

The resolution urges Trump to “speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy.” It also calls on the administration to “use all resources available to the President and the President’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

The resolution also urges Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate any acts of violence or domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists.

In short, Trump should be what he’s clearly not – and so should Jeff Sessions – and do the right thing. This was an intervention. Don’t be that way!

Good luck with that. After that torchlight neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally, and that woman run down and killed by one of those white supremacists, Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” and said that some “very fine people” were marching with those white nationalists. Two days later he conceded that those white supremacists were pretty awful people, but the next day he made clear at that Arizona rally that he considered his initial comments as perfect as perfect can be. This intervention might not work. He is who he is.

Was it worth a try? That’s doubtful, and the House and Senate know that. Donald Trump is who he is. They put themselves on record as being against white nationalists and white supremacists and the KKK and neo-Nazis and those shouting “Jews with not replace us” and that young fellow in the Dodge Challenger plowing into the crowd, and domestic terrorists of all sorts. The House and Senate are saying where they stand. Trump can do and say what he wants – it’s a free country. They know he won’t change. He should live and be happy. They’re just saying that they’re not happy.

But something is wrong. At Salon, Chauncey DeVega lays it out:

In the age of television and now the internet, there are hundreds of thousands of hours of video and audio footage of every president widely available. There are also rumors and leaks from within the White House and other branches of government that can help paint a picture of a given president’s moods, desires, thoughts and other behavior. What is to be done if this evidence collectively suggests that the president of the United States is mentally ill?

Unfortunately, with Donald Trump this is not the stuff of a political thriller. It is painfully plausible and all too real. The evidence suggesting that Donald Trump may have serious mental health problems is overwhelming.

He is a compulsive liar who creates his own fantasy world. Trump is also extremely moody and impulsive. Trump’s advisers have to satisfy his extreme narcissism and nurture his detachment from reality by presenting him – on a twice-daily basis – with a file folder full of “good news.” Fellow Republicans have been recorded on a hot mike suggesting that Trump may be “crazy.” The American news media, as well as commentators from other countries, have voiced serious concerns about Trump’s mental health and the threat it poses to global security.

It is time to interview an expert, and so DeVega interviews Lance Dodes, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (retired) and a training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

That’s a good place to start, and Dodes starts by clarifying that old pesky rule:

The Goldwater rule is from the American Psychiatric Association (APA). However, the APA’s version of the Goldwater rule is not subscribed to by any of the other major mental health agencies, including my own, the American Psychoanalytic Association. It is also not subscribed to by the American Psychological Association or the National Association of Social Workers, among others. The APA’s view as expressed in the so-called Goldwater rule is unconstitutional because it prohibits free speech. It is also nonsensical and unethical to have the rule as is. The concerns that the APA is expressing about things like confidentiality and getting the permission of the person before you talk about them simply do not apply unless the person is your patient.

Donald Trump is not anyone’s patient, so there is no confidentiality rule. In fact, no other branch of medicine has this rule. If your favorite linebacker goes down with a tear to his ACL in a football game, the next thing you will see is an orthopedist on television talking about the prognosis and the injury. Every other medical specialty feels free – and they should feel free – to speak out about public figures because it is a public service. In the field of psychiatry, we call this “duty to warn.” When you gag the people who actually know the best about these things, then you leave the public with uninformed lay opinions.

Forget those lay opinions:

The APA itself has a diagnostic manual, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5). If you look in that manual, the way they diagnose conditions is on two bases: one, behavior and two, speech. There is no inference about the causality or about the emotional determents or about the specific inner issues and conflicts in people. To know that it’s true, you have to interview them and you have to get to know them. But anybody, trained or not, can observe speech and behavior. It is good to be a professional in the field because then you can take the next step with confidence and say, “People with this kind of speech and behavior have this kind of problem.” That is completely fair, and that is exactly where the APA diagnoses things. If you consider, for example, the diagnosis “antisocial personality,” that is a diagnosis in the DSM-5 and you can look it up.

So anybody can read that and then look at Donald Trump and, as you say, the thousands of hours of interviews and evidence that we have about him, and see whether he either meets this criteria for speech and behavior or he does not. The fact is, he does.

This is a matter of observation:

It is people who lie and cheat. Everybody lies some of the time, but in this instance we mean people who lie as a way of being in the world, to manage relationships and also to manage your feelings about yourself. People who cheat and steal from others. People who lack empathy… the lack of empathy is a critical aspect of it. People who are narcissistic.

That’s the diagnosis:

Trump’s case of narcissism is particularly severe because he also is out of touch with reality whenever he becomes upset. When he says, “I had the largest crowd at an inauguration in history,” it does not matter that you can tell him that it is not true, he still insists on it. Well, that is very troublesome because what it means is that he needs to believe it. He is able to give up reality in exchange for his wished-for belief. Sometimes we call that a delusion. We have not used that word much with Donald Trump because that does get confused with people who think that they are Napoleon. But Trump has a fluid sense of reality, which is a sign of a very sick individual.

Sociopathy itself is a sign of a very sick individual, someone with a lying, cheating and emotional disorder. The intersection of those two occurs in sociopathy. It is not just bad behavior that people have to lie and cheat the way he does, it is the incapacity to treat other people as full human beings. That is why his focus is on humiliating others to aggrandize himself, as he did in the Republican primaries when he was debating and calling people names. The same thing applies to Hispanic immigrants and separating the children from their parents. That is a very, very serious mental and emotional problem. Normal people have normal empathy. It is part of being a human being. Lying and cheating and humiliating others and grinding them into dust in order to triumph is not just bad behavior. It is a serious mental illness.

Still, this may be a useful mental illness:

Some people look for strong leaders. Others are suspicious of strong leaders. A lot of people seek out strong leaders because it is part of our shared human experience. As children, we all want to believe that our parents are good and strong and great and will protect us forever. So if you have someone who comes along say, “I am good and strong and great and I will protect you forever,” a certain number of people will follow that person.

If they are skilled at it the way Trump is, or the way that Mussolini or Hitler was, then they speak to the concerns of those people. Not that they really have any care about them. Trump does not. He could not care less about these people. What they want from him is somebody who will finally be strong and speak up for them, except that it is a one-sided bargain. They just do not know it is because he is a liar.

That leads to a discussion of how Trump appears to have no sense of social obligation or reciprocity, and Dodes adds this:

He has no sense of that because it is all about him. That is narcissistic, but it is much worse than the ordinary person with narcissistic personality. You know, I have known lots of people like that, and none of them are as evil or dangerous as Donald Trump because they do not have the sociopathy part. They may be oriented towards themselves, they may be self-centered, they may care mostly about themselves, but when it comes right down to it, they have some compassion; they have a conscience. But not Donald Trump. That is the malignant part.

So it might be time for an intervention:

The more desperate Trump becomes, the more he needs to have a crisis so the country will rally around him. If I had to pinpoint it, I would say he is going to start bombing North Korea. Unfortunately, the North Korean leader is just as sick as Trump. The two of them are like little boys on a playground but much worse, because little boys are not evil, they are just aggressive. The second thing is – and this is the Republican calculation – at what point do I need to abandon Donald Trump in order to preserve my political career? I think that is exactly what is going through the minds of the Republican Party leadership right now. They have to wait for a shift in public opinion and it is coming. Charlottesville was one major event, and there will be others. Then I think they will go to Trump and say, “We are going to impeach you or we are going to apply the 25th Amendment.”

The House and Senate settled for a joint resolution instead of those two things – and that’s as likely to work as well as the gay-conversion therapy worked with that cheerleader Megan Bloomfield.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, has a different take on this. Forget the mental health issues. Donald Trump could destroy the presidency itself:

We have never had a president so ill-informed about the nature of his office, so openly mendacious, so self-destructive, or so brazen in his abusive attacks on the courts, the press, Congress (including members of his own party), and even senior officials within his own administration. Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty…

At this point in the singular Trump presidency, we can begin to assess its impact on American democracy. The news thus far is not all bad. The Constitution’s checks and balances have largely stopped Trump from breaking the law. And while he has hurt his own administration, his successors likely won’t repeat his self-destructive antics. The prognosis for the rest of our democratic culture is grimmer, however. Trump’s bizarre behavior has coarsened politics and induced harmful norm-breaking by the institutions he has attacked. These changes will be harder to undo.

That’s because the job was always a bit vague:

The framers of the constitution wanted to create a powerful, independent executive branch, but they didn’t want to stoke fears that the new United States would replicate the monarchy from which it had just separated. Confident that George Washington would be the first chief executive and would use his power responsibly, they established an unstructured office with ambiguous authorities. Article II vests the president with “executive Power,” but it doesn’t define the term, and it gives the president only a few rather modest enumerated powers.

These vague constitutional contours allowed the presidency to grow, in response to changes in society and the world, into a gargantuan institution that the Framers never could have foreseen. The president’s control over the bully pulpit, federal law enforcement, and the national-security establishment has made the office the dominant force in American government and a danger to constitutional liberties. The flexible structure of the office has meant that it is defined largely by the person who occupies it – his character, competence, and leadership skills. Great presidents, such as Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, exercised power wisely (though controversially) to lead the nation through crisis. But Richard Nixon debased the office and betrayed the Constitution and our laws, while others, like Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, allowed the executive branch to become engulfed in corruption and scandal.

And now we have Donald Trump:

During the campaign, he pledged to act in illegal ways; expressed illiberal attitudes toward freedom of speech, religion, and the press; attacked immigrants and minorities; tolerated, and even incited, thuggery at his rallies. The man who on January 20, 2017, took a constitutional oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” seemed disdainful of the rule of law and almost certain to abuse his power. “He is unlikely to be contained by norms and customs, or even by laws and the Constitution,” wrote Peter Wehner, a circumspect Republican commentator, in The New York Times the day after Trump’s inauguration. Wehner captured, in an understated way, prevalent fears about Trump’s presidency.

But there is hope:

Many believe Congress hasn’t done enough to stand up to Trump. But in the context of facing a Republican president in his honeymoon first year, it has been remarkably tough. This summer, by large bipartisan majorities, it passed a law imposing sanctions on Russia that Trump abhorred and that curbed his power. Congress has also shown backbone in investigating the Trump campaign’s connection to Russian election meddling. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting a “notoriously bipartisan” investigation, as The Washington Post put it. Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared to be in Trump’s pocket and trying to delegitimize the committee’s investigation. But the press uncovered his shenanigans, Nunes stepped aside, and the House has since been pursuing the matter more seriously. Republican senators also rose to Sessions’ defense when Trump openly attacked him, and they have signaled strong support for Robert Mueller. These efforts reflect unusual Republican distrust of a Republican president, and would surely ramp up if Trump fired Sessions or Mueller.

A symbiotic relationship between the bureaucracy and the press has also exposed abuses and illegalities. National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s lies about his Russian contacts were leaked and reported, and forced his resignation. When the New York Times published a leaked draft of an executive order that would have restored CIA authority for black sites, and enhanced interrogation, the outcry in Congress and elsewhere killed the order. Trump and his family have not yet been brought to heel on their business conflicts of interest. Checks have been weakest here, but that is mainly because the Constitution and laws are ambiguous on such conflicts, and are not designed for judicial enforcement. Nonetheless, several imaginative lawsuits have been filed against Trump and his associates, and the press has done a good job of bringing conflicts to light.

All of this helps:

In these and other ways, actors inside and outside the executive branch have so far stymied Trump’s tendencies toward lawlessness. One might even say that in the first year of his presidency, Trump has invigorated constitutional checks and balances, and the nation’s appreciation for them.

All of this may not be enough:

Donald Trump is a norm-busting president without parallel in American history. He has told scores of easily disprovable public lies; he has shifted back and forth and back again on his policies, often contradicting Cabinet officials along the way; he has attacked the courts, the press, his predecessor, his former electoral opponent, members of his party, the intelligence community, and even his own attorney general; he has failed to release his tax returns or to fill senior political positions in many agencies; he has shown indifference to ethics concerns; he has regularly interjected a self-regarding political element into apolitical events; he has monetized the presidency by linking it to his personal business interests; and he has engaged in cruel public behavior. The list goes on and on.

But it’s more than that:

Trump’s norm violations are different. Many of them appear to result from his lack of emotional intelligence – a “president’s ability to manage his emotions and turn them to constructive purposes, rather than being dominated by them and allowing them to diminish his leadership,” as the Princeton political scientist Fred I. Greenstein has put it. Trump’s behavior seems to flow from hypersensitivity untempered by shame, a mercurial and contrarian personality, and a notable lack of self-control.

A corollary to Trump’s shamelessness is that he often doesn’t seek to hide or even spin his norm-breaking. Put another way, he is far less hypocritical than past presidents – and that is a bad thing. Hypocrisy is an underappreciated political virtue. It can palliate self-interested and politically divisive government action through mollifying rhetoric and a call to shared values. Trump is bad at it because he can’t “recognize the difference between what one professes in public and what one does in private, much less the utility of exploiting that difference,” Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore have noted in Foreign Affairs. He is incapable of keeping his crass thoughts to himself, or of cloaking his speech in other-regarding principle.

There’s much more – Goldsmith is depressingly thorough – but it all comes down to this:

Citizens’ trust in American institutions has been in decline for a while. That’s one reason Donald Trump was elected. His assault on those institutions, and the defiant reactions to his assault, will further diminish that trust and make it yet harder to resolve social and political disputes. The breakdown in institutions mirrors the breakdown in social cohesion among citizens that was also a major cause of Trumpism, and that Trumpism has churned further. This is perhaps the worst news of all for our democracy.

Trump could destroy it all. It is time for an intervention, and Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, suggests this new idea:

A president can be impeached and removed from office if convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors. He can be removed, under the conventional understanding of the 25th Amendment, if he is incapacitated by mental or physical illness. But there is no obvious solution for a president who has not committed a crime or been disabled by illness, but has lost the confidence of the public because of a failure of temperament, ideology or ability.

The current understanding of the 25th Amendment should be enlarged so as to provide authority to address this problem, through creation of a Presidential Oversight Council empowered to recommend removal of the president on political rather than medical grounds. When both the president’s party and the opposing party lose confidence in the president’s ability to govern, the council would stand ready to evaluate him and make a recommendation to Congress. Congress would be required to vote on its recommendation.

Posner is suggesting a new sort of intervention:

Congress should create such a council and staff it not with medical professionals (as proposed in a bill this spring by some Democrats in Congress), but with senior elected officials of both parties – the top Republican and Democratic elected officials in Congress, plus a few governors as well. The body would be required to meet periodically and verify that the president is able to discharge his powers and duties. Of course, it would be permitted to consult with medical and mental health experts, but they would not have any power to make decisions.

The council would consist of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, and it would be able to declare the president’s unfitness based on a two-thirds majority vote. Such an arrangement means that the president would remain in office unless he lost significant support from his own party, including his own vice president. This would never happen – unless the president was truly incompetent.

And we may be there right now:

By politically incompetent, I mean incompetent to exercise the powers of the presidency in a way that meets the approval of the president’s party as well as the opposing party. This could be because the president’s values fall outside the mainstream (either they have changed while in office or he concealed them while running for office); he lacks the interest or attention span to inform himself about issues; or he lacks management abilities and is unable to govern effectively.

That’s Trump:

The problem we currently face is that Trump may be incompetent to hold office even if he has not committed crimes of sufficient weight to justify impeachment. Impeachments are oriented toward specific acts, akin to criminal trials, while the problem we currently face – and may face in the future – concerns the president’s character.

The Presidential Oversight Council, in contrast, would be able to evaluate the president’s overall ability based on all of his behavior in office. Because the council would be a standing body, oversight of the president would be normalized and wouldn’t require the sort of crisis that motivates impeachment proceedings.

This Presidential Oversight Council just might work:

It would allow Republicans to demonstrate the gravity of their concerns about Trump’s behavior without forcing them to take a stand on impeachment, which would surely fail. It would be ready to spring into action if Trump, or any future president, showed signs of incapacity to govern. It would reinforce the notion that the president does not govern alone but must maintain the support of Congress and other institutions in the much-maligned but essential “political establishment.” And it would give notice to Trump and his aides that outrageous behavior will no longer be tolerated and is not shielded by the Constitution.

And it’s nonsense. Creating this Presidential Oversight Council would be politically impossible. This tool would be seen as too dangerous. Any president could be removed at any time by the overwhelming agreement of sensible patriotic people.

No, wait. That’s the whole idea. Donald Trump, like that young cheerleader in the movie, isn’t going to change. He should live and be happy, but not as president. It’s a thought.

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Somehow Moving On

Another 9/11 rolled around. The high-powered Wall Street attorney, who knows more about securities law than anyone in their right mind should know – insert your own joke about lawyers’ odd minds here – called to chat. He was there on 9/11 – he lost friends – he still remembers the smell of death in the air. And he said, back there, everyone has moved on. They all remember everything, but he had turned off all the cable news stuff about that awful day long ago. That was the rest of the country wallowing in rather useless anger and rather repulsive whining – not his exact words but close enough. Never forget? Of course, never forget any of it, but look forward. What now? He was doing that Francis Bacon thing – “A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.”

There are better things to do. He’s running for Congress – someone sensible has to help shape policy so these thing don’t happen again, and common sense and common decency and cooperation and sensible compromise are all good things too, no matter what Donald Trump and Steve Bannon say.

Move on. The concept is simple. Perpetual anger is stupid, and it renders those who are perpetually angry stupid – perhaps permanently stupid. There’s always a new enemy of everything that is good and decent and American – Mexicans, Muslims, gays and transgender folks, young black thugs and the Black Lives Matter terrorists, international bankers (Jews) – or those inscrutable Asians who run all our high tech companies (even if Bill Gates is hardly Asian) – or atheists, or urban hipsters, or the Germans, or Rosy O’Donnell and Meryl Streep – and if Obama was for it, that too is that enemy of everything that is good and decent and American. The targets keep shifting. It takes time to build a detailed case against each target. It takes time to hammer that case home to the public. All resources are directed to keeping old wounds green. Nothing gets done. America ends up with a stupid government – or no real government.

That might describe the Trump administration, and he can’t help himself:

President Donald Trump marked the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Monday, honoring victims, first responders and the military in remarks at the Pentagon and pledging resolve to keep the U.S. safe from future attacks.

“The terrorists who attacked us thought they could incite fear and weaken our spirit. But America cannot be intimidated, and those who try will soon join the long list of vanquished enemies who dared to test our mettle,” Trump said Monday morning.

The president, who recently announced his administration’s strategy for the long-running conflict in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 as a hunt for the organizers of the Sept. 11 attacks, warned that “we are making plain to these savage killers that there is no dark corner beyond our reach. No sanctuary beyond our grasp, and nowhere to hide anywhere on this very large Earth.”

He’s a little late to the game. Obama took care of Osama bin Laden – quietly and efficiently. Donald Trump didn’t lead Navy Seal Team Six and pull the trigger – he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice at the time – but this was an angry message of defiance and dominance. Unlike Obama, he’d get the bad guys – and no one would ever mess with America ever again, and no one would make fun of America ever again, and no one would ever make fun of his tiny hands ever again. The world would FEAR America again. They would fear our wrath.

The speech was sixteen years too late. He was keeping old wounds green and festering. There would be no moving on.

This is the kind of thing that seems stupid to that high-powered Wall Street attorney, who is not alone. It also may be dangerous. Conor Friedersdorf addresses that – that odd staff writer at The Atlantic who says he has right-leaning views but does not consider himself to be a doctrinal conservative or a member of the conservative movement – if there is such a thing. He’s a Gary Johnson Libertarian – and he now lives out here in Venice – the center of Los Angeles’ counterculture, and counter-everything.

Conor Friedersdorf is outside the system, but he sees the danger here:

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks struck an unprepared America mere months into President George W. Bush’s first term. Nothing in his tenure to that point was particularly memorable. Nothing he had ever faced in life was remotely comparable. And the United States was forever shaped by the strengths and weaknesses exhibited by the Bush administration as its officials decided how to respond.

For the couple of weeks preceding the anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been fretting about what would happen if Donald Trump, who has reached the same point in his first term, is still president if and when this country next faces a challenge as significant.

There’s reason to worry:

I do not think that the United States has ever elected anyone less suited than Trump to lead it through a major terrorist attack, a war, or a challenge of similar scale.

I don’t merely mean that President Trump has no governing experience, though he does not; or that his past bankruptcies make one wonder what Taj Mahal Casino-like ruins are in his future; or that I think poorly of his moral compass and his ability to master himself, though I find him unfit to lead in a nuclear age based on those traits alone.

Friedersdorf sees much more that worries him:

The White House is in constant disarray as key personnel are hired and fired at an unprecedented rate. One cost is that most basic measure of experience: days on the job. Another is an inability to forge sustained working relationships as colleagues are summarily dispatched in the manner of a reality-TV show. And how can those who remain do their best work when the boss at the top exhibits a management style that is as volatile and erratic as it is petty? Many dignified people have simply refused to consider working for him.

Huge numbers of important State Department positions are still unfilled, including key undersecretary positions; and the ability of the United States to conduct diplomacy or to draw on country-specific expertise seems to have atrophied.

The United States is as divided as it has been at any time in my life. And according to a recent Fox News poll, it isn’t just that a majority of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing—56 percent say that he is “tearing the country apart.”

The Trump Organization’s murky asset portfolio, with heavy investments in numerous foreign countries, and the Trump family’s refusal to divest from it, makes it impossible for congressional overseers or the public to adequately discern when the Trump family’s business interests diverge from America’s interests.

All of this, and more, seems dire to Friedersdorf:

Things could get much, much worse – and quickly. That is one of the lessons many in my generation absorbed most fully on September 11, 2001. So in a world that has neither certitude nor peace, my pain at the unpreparedness of my country and the needlessly weak position it occupies seems likely to persist until Trump, who stokes that weakness, is no longer president.

Okay, the guy has got to go away, but how does that happen? How does America move on?

Don’t look to the Democrats. Jonathan Chait says that the first order of business is to look at the pathologies of the Republican Party:

It is certainly true that the psychological relationship between the parties has a certain symmetry. Both fear each other will cheat to win and use their power to stack the voting deck. “If Republicans win in close elections, Democrats say it’s only because they cheated by making it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote; if Democrats win in close elections, Republicans say it’s only because they voted illegally.” But while it is not true that Democrats have allowed illegal voting in nontrivial levels, it is extremely true that Republicans have deliberately made voting inconvenient for Democratic-leaning constituencies. The psychology is parallel, but the underlying facts are not.

 Likewise, there is a superficial similarity to the terror with which partisans now greet governments controlled by the opposing party. Obama’s presidency made Republicans terrified of rampant socialism and vengeful minority rule. (Rush Limbaugh in 2009 instructed his audience, “In Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering ‘Yeah, right on, right on, right on.’ Of course everybody said the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist – he’s white.”) Trump’s presidency has inspired a similar terror among liberals terrified that Trump would take their insurance and deport immigrants.

But that’s where the symmetry ends:

Liberal fears have had a much closer relationship to reality. The reason is that the Democratic Party is racially and economically heterogeneous. Even if he had wanted to take vengeance upon white America for its sins, Obama had far too many white supporters to make such a course of action remotely practical. (A majority of Obama’s voters were white, in fact.) On economic issues, the Democratic Party relies on support and input from business and labor alike. Whatever terrors of rampant Jacobinism may have gripped the economic elite, there are limits to the fiscal and regulatory pain Democrats can impose on a constituency that has a seat at the table (many seats, actually).

There is little such balance to be found in the Republican Party. Republicans concerned about their party’s future may blanch at Trump’s pardoning of the sadistic racist Joe Arpaio or his gleeful unleashing of law enforcement. In the short term, however, they have bottomed out on their minority support and proven able to win national power regardless, by using racial wedge issues to pry away blue-collar whites. Advocates for labor or the poor have no voice whatsoever in the Republican elite. It took a massive national mobilization to narrowly dissuade the party from snatching health insurance away from millions of people too poor or sick to afford it.

And then there’s the tribal stuff:

There is nothing on the left with the reach and scope of the conservative media universe defined by talk radio, Fox News, and other outlets that have functioned as state media. Certainly pockets of epistemological closure exist, especially in the way social media has allowed curated media streams that exclusively cater to one’s prejudices. But the fact is that the Democratic Party is fundamentally accountable to the mainstream news media. And that media try to follow rules of objectivity that the right-wing alternative media does not bother with.

And then there’s Steve Bannon:

Bannon understood both the importance and the permeability of the mainstream news media to his ideas and messaging. Bannon knew that the right kind of research could influence the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton, and thereby deeply shape the views of Democratic voters.

Whether or not the New York Times was correct to use this research, and whether or not it treated Clinton fairly overall, is not the point. What matters is that Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing – and arguably eager – to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have had its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way – see the Times’ disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party’s interests – its errors all run in the same direction.

Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don’t dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.

That means that the Democrats are in a hopeless position:

The left has no equivalent to a Rush Limbaugh in influence and sheer lunacy. The conservative commentator – whose prestige on the right is such that, when Republicans won control of the House in 1994, they made him an honorary member – recently described Hurricane Irma as a story trumped up by the liberal media in order to foment climate-change hysteria and sell bottled water. There are figures just as crazy as Limbaugh on the left, but they are almost uniformly outside the Democratic Party coalition.

That means that Trump will stay, no matter what the Democrats do or who they run:

It is simply impossible to design any kind of a system that can withstand a stress test like a major party captured by a faction as radical as the conservative movement. Its absence of limiting principles to its ideology, indifference to empirical evidence, and inability to concede failings of its dogma lead to an endless succession of failures explained away to the base as faintheartedness…

Republicans are sealed off in a bubble of paranoia and rage, and Democrats are sealed off from that bubble. Democrats fear Republican government because it is dangerous and extreme. Republicans fear Democratic government because they are dangerous and extreme.

And thus Donald Trump stays just where he is, for two full terms.

Kevin Drum sees that too:

America is a democracy, and parties survive only if they gain popular support. Over the past couple of decades, we liberals have marveled at the steadily increasing lunacy of the Republican Party, confidently predicting at every turn that eventually the fever has to break. But it hasn’t. Republicans have won the presidency at the same rate as usual. They have won the House. They have won the Senate. They control state governments. They control county governments. There are still a few blue enclaves like California where Democrats truly control things, but not many. Generally speaking, the only thing Democrats truly control in America is its big cities. Urban mayors are almost uniformly Democratic.

In other words, the problem is not the Republican Party. The problem is that lots of people vote for the Republican Party. The lunacy will stop when that does.

There’s only one solution to that problem:

Roughly speaking, liberals would do well to forget the Republican Party even exists. Their focus should be almost exclusively on how and why conservatives continue to attract the support of half the American public no matter how crazy they seem to become. Until we figure this out, things are only going to get worse.

That might be hard to figure out. Winning the support of half of the American public, no matter how crazy they seem to have become, won’t be easy.

Josh Marshall discusses that:

Many Democrats (and a significant number of Republicans) came out of the 2012 election thinking that America’s non-white population was large enough that the calculus of racial appeals and raced politics had changed. Not that it had disappeared. No one believed that. But many believed that population demographics had reached a tipping power where at least in national elections they hurt more than they helped. There were no longer enough white people or white people open to racial backlash politics to win national elections. That was the premise of the fabled and now trashed RNC-authored post-2012 ‘autopsy’.

But that turned out not to be true. It turned out that you could run the most explicitly raced national campaign in at least forty years and perhaps ever and win.

That may be why the Democrats lost:

Sure, Trump lost the popular vote. But the Electoral College is a fact whether we like it or not. It’s not going anywhere. One part of the equation was that there were more whites in the Midwestern industrial states who had voted for Barack Obama than the 2012 exit polls suggested. Campaign operatives thought Romney had maxed out the white vote and lost. But he hadn’t…

There were more white voters than the political conventional wisdom suggested. A small but significant number of whites in the industrial Midwest who had voted for Barack Obama once or even twice were susceptible to being ‘activated’ by the politics of white backlash. I think political racism or white supremacy is best seen like a virus which can remain dormant only to be activated under certain conditions. We also learned that the increasing urban vs rural divide had grown over four years. Partisan polarization had continued to grow to the degree that a lot of more moderate Republicans many thought would abandon Trump didn’t.

What all of that comes down to is that we learned in 2016 that a white backlash campaign, which polarized the electorate on racial lines, was enough to win. So, yeah, it’s definitely about race on several different levels. But the reality is that simple math tells you that some significant number of white voters who were activated by racist appeals need to be won back to turn back the tide of Trumpism. This has the certainty of math.

So it does come down to winning the support of half of the American public, no matter how “crazy” they seem to have become about race, but Marshall sees no way to do that:

One theory, an old theory, is that Democrats have to refocus on the concerns of the ‘working class whites’. At least as broadly understood, this makes no sense either in political or moral terms. The Democratic Party is roughly half non-white. Good luck appealing to the cultural and racial anxieties of Trump voters and not blowing up the whole party or center-left political coalition.

This is a structural problem:

I never cease to be amazed, despite everything that has happened in the last 45 years, that people all across the political spectrum still see the Democratic party as fundamentally a white party which happens to get support from an outside group we call African-Americans. Whites still hold a disproportionate share of dominant positions. But African-Americans and a big majority of Hispanics and an even larger majority of Asians aren’t supporters of the Democratic Party. They ARE the Democratic Party. Even if you set aside the political and moral questions, it’s simply not possible for that party to pivot in that direction.

Maybe in 25 years demography will solve this problem. But what happens now? A big chunk of the left of the Democratic Party – a lot of labor liberals, a lot of people who supported Bernie Sanders, say you simply re-polarize the electorate around class and economic issues and gain back some of those Trump voters that way. In its crudest form (and there are less crude forms) this is the ‘ditch the identity politics and focus on unifying class issues’ argument. There are numerous problems with this argument, both moral and strategic.

What did Boromir say? “One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!”

This too is folly:

For starters, I think it greatly overstates the appeal of social democratic economic policy to big chunks of the electorate. It also tells half the party’s voters that critical issues to them need to take a back seat to economic and class politics, with the implicit message that those are the ones that really matter. Enough of ‘identity politics’ – let’s focus on the real stuff.

That won’t fly:

What it all comes down to is that once you get beyond Trump’s hardcore racist revanchist base, there are a lot of voters who supported Trump. To the extent that a significant number of these are sometimes Democratic voters, we can say they are racists, people who can be activated to support white backlash politics under the right conditions or are at a minimum people who are ready to vote for a racist candidate even if that’s something they want to ignore rather than embrace. But however you define them, Democrats need to win some percentage of them back to win elections. And without winning elections, there’s no progress on voting rights, universal health care, wealth inequality, civil rights or anything else.

Identifying the roots of Trumpism doesn’t give you sufficient answers to how to combat it, especially if it’s true that there are enough white voters, susceptible to activation by white backlash politics, to win national elections.

In short, don’t look to the Democrats. There will be no moving on. There will always be a new enemy of everything that is good and decent and American – probably black, or brown, or slightly yellow. Old wounds will be kept green and festering. There will be lots of rather useless anger and rather repulsive whining. And next year’s 9/11 will be much like this year. Donald Trump will find and kill Osama bin Laden, and no one will ever mess with America ever again, and no one will make fun of America ever again, and no one will ever make fun of his tiny hands ever again. The world will FEAR America again.

Those who want to move beyond that, to just move on, have only one choice. Run for Congress. Nothing else is working.

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