The Persistence of Nonsense

Nothing is ever settled. Donald Trump is president but he lost the popular vote by a wide margin. Almost three million votes is a wide margin, and that’s the problem. His defenders say that doesn’t matter. He won the electoral vote handily – so get over it – it’s settled. Then they’d smirk – but even Donald Trump doesn’t think the matter was settled. He said he’d sign an executive order that would begin the investigation that would prove that three to five million illegal votes were cast, all for Hilary Clinton and not a single one for him. Illegal aliens had cast those votes, or someone had, somehow. He’d prove he’d won big. Everyone loved him. He had a mandate.

There was no executive order. Someone must have whispered in Trump’s ear that this was nonsense and was making him look like a fool and this sure looked like pathetic whining. No one likes a whiner. He won. Leave it at that – and then Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan said that Congress would not appropriate any funds for any such investigation. The Republicans had finally won the House and Senate and the White House and were in total control of the government. They could do what they want. They’d do it. Donald Trump would get over this. He’d finally come to his senses. This really didn’t matter. There was work to do, finally.

Trump didn’t come to his senses. He had a workaround – he said he’d name a special commission to look into this, a commission that would prove he had won the popular vote, and this commission would be headed by his vice president, Mike Pence. Pence dutifully said he’d be proud to head that commission, and then it was never mentioned again.

This won’t be settled. Nothing is ever settled, even if it’s resolved, and now that man of the Old South, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, is the new attorney general, confirmed in a most unsatisfactory manner:

A sharply divided Senate confirmed President Trump’s nominee for attorney general Wednesday, capping an ugly partisan fight and revealing how deep the discord has grown between Republicans and Democrats at the dawn of Trump’s presidency.

The day after an unusually tense conflict on the Senate floor, the chamber voted 52 to 47 on Wednesday evening to clear Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose record on civil and voting rights as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general has long been criticized. Sessions won confirmation almost exclusively along party lines. Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) was the only Democrat who supported him, and no Republican voted against him. Sessions voted present.

In remarks after his confirmation, Sessions mentioned the “heated debate” surrounding him and said he hoped “the intensity of the last few weeks” would give way to better relations in the Senate.

That was wishful thinking. The New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer reviews how nothing was really settled:

Silenced on the Senate floor for condemning a peer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, emerged on Wednesday in a coveted role: the avatar of liberal resistance in the age of President Trump.

Late on Tuesday, Senate Republicans voted to halt the remarks of Ms. Warren, already a lodestar of the left, after she criticized a colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, by reading a letter from Coretta Scott King.

Instantly, the decision – led by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who invoked a rarely enforced rule prohibiting senators from impugning the motives and conduct of a peer – amplified Ms. Warren’s message and further inflamed the angry Senate debate over Mr. Sessions’ nomination…

For Ms. Warren’s supporters, it was the latest and most visceral example of a woman muzzled by men who seemed unwilling to listen.

Trump got his attorney general, but Mitch McConnell ruined his mandate by telling that woman to sit down and shut up, because she had no right to read that letter from the widow of the greatest civil rights hero in American history. Many women were appalled, and there may not be one black vote for any Republican ever again, but this wasn’t about that:

Critics saw something else: a senator who has rankled members of both parties with her nose for the spotlight lobbing a far-too-early salvo in the next presidential race.

“A lot of that’s about 2020 politics,” Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, grumbled on MSNBC.

Perhaps so, but this unsettled everything:

McConnell’s subsequent explanation for his maneuver seemed destined for a future Warren campaign ad: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” After an unsuccessful effort to draft her for the 2016 presidential race, Ms. Warren is considered a very early front-runner for 2020, should she run.

Mr. McConnell’s coda has already been repurposed as a sort of rallying cry. Across social media, Ms. Warren’s allies and supporters posted with the hashtag #shepersisted, calling to mind some Democrats’ embrace of the term “nasty woman” after Mr. Trump deployed it to describe Hillary Clinton during a debate.

Yes, this helps Warren, but this was bigger than Warren. Expect the t-shirts and coffee mugs and tote bags – “Nevertheless, she persisted” in big bold letters. Expect tattoos. Expect those words on billboards and the sides of buildings. Trump got his attorney general and got a national and perhaps worldwide women’s movement. The cabinet post was settled, but nothing is ever settled, and there was this:

After the vote to bar Ms. Warren from speaking further about Mr. Sessions, other senators, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Udall of New Mexico, read Mrs. King’s letter without facing any objection, prompting some activists to raise charges of sexism.

What else could it be? Oh yeah, it could be racism too. In the evening after the vote, hundreds of women surrounded Sessions’ house and read the King letter aloud, in unison. Expect more of that. The letter wasn’t buried. It’s been posted everywhere. Millions have now read it. That’s not what McConnell wanted.

Trump got his attorney general, but this may have been settled the other way, although Greg Sargent isn’t so sure of that:

To be sure, the crackdown on Warren has already backfired in significant ways for Republicans. It is already drawing more attention to Coretta Scott King’s remarks about Sessions than Warren or Democrats could ever dreamed would happen. Warren read the full letter outside the Senate chamber, which was a great gesture. As Warren put it “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”

Indeed, McConnell’s suggestion that Warren had impugned Sessions’ motives and conduct – which he buttressed by reading aloud King’s words – implicitly conceded that Coretta Scott King had impugned Sessions’ motives and conduct, and that this must not be given a hearing on the Senate floor. The message all of this sends about Sessions and the GOP on civil rights is awful for Republicans.

But the point is, Republicans don’t care what message this sends.

That’s because this is about something else:

Warren was shut down from speaking by Republicans who employed an arcane Senate rule; Democrats are shut out of power, and Republicans will use any and all procedural means at their disposal to render them as powerless and irrelevant as possible. And Republicans see no reason to fear any political repercussions from whatever message any of it sends.

That’s because the matter of winners and losers really had been settled:

Republicans pocketed a Supreme Court seat that was President Obama’s to fill and will now likely get their choice of justice installed in it. If Democrats filibuster that choice, or filibuster the next justice Trump picks, Republicans will likely nuke the Senate rules and blow past Democratic opposition. Republicans are totally abdicating any meaningful oversight role toward Trump, despite his unprecedented conflicts of interest and possible corruption, and they are unlikely to pursue independent probes into Russian meddling in our election, making it less substantially likely that the public will ever be fully informed about these things. Republicans have clearly signaled they will do everything they can to prevent other institutional watchdogs from exercising any oversight of their own. This will only get worse.

The outpouring of anger that greeted the muzzling of Warren constituted another sign of the grass-roots energy among Democrats that is arising in response to Trump and his GOP, and that could matter a lot going forward. But Democrats are nonetheless likely to lose a lot of fights to come. The confirmation Tuesday of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, after an intense grass-roots-driven campaign from Democrats, is a hint of more defeat and despair ahead.

In short, give it up:

The question is what will happen to the spirit among Democrats amid more demoralizing losses – and once it sinks in that the nonstop awfulness of Trump isn’t going away, which itself could exacerbate the demoralization. Indeed, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg tells me that Democratic lawmakers confide they are already worrying about this problem, based on what they are seeing back home. “It is clear that Democrats on the Hill are acutely aware of their challenge,” Rosenberg says. “They have very little power to block Trump, yet they are getting a clear message from their partisans back home that they expect results.”

They are in a tight spot, and one thing is settled:

This is not to say that Republicans can’t be defeated in important ways. Trump and Republicans may be backing off their vow to scrap protections for people brought here illegally as children. Republicans are running into massive trouble with their push to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Democrats have effectively drawn attention to Republicans’ bumbling, incompetence and shrugging lack of concern for how repeal would harm millions. It’s not hard to see GOP efforts to roll back financial oversight going down to defeat. The opposition to Trump’s immigration ban has effectively dramatized the cruel realities of Trumpism and may, at a minimum, dissuade Trump from trying more policies like it. And so on.

But Democrats are going to be shut up. They are going to be shut out. They are going to lose. A lot.

That settles things, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

What we learned in November, if we didn’t already know it, is that civil rights fights don’t inspire a unifying admiration among Americans. As much as 46% of the electorate is tired of hearing about the struggles of non-whites, and votes accordingly. So of course McConnell has no qualms about preventing Elizabeth Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s words on the Senate floor. Of course he and 48 of his fellow Republicans would vote to uphold that ban. None of their voters will object. None of their voters revere the Kings that much (or at all).

So this fired up the Democratic base, but it didn’t alienate Republican voters. That’s something, but I wish it meant more.

So, some things are settled, but maybe not:

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch told a US senator Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s tweets about the judiciary are “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”

In a meeting with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gorsuch, who’s largely been silent since Trump nominated him last week, took exception to Trump calling a federal judge in Seattle a “so-called judge” after blocking the President’s travel ban.

“He said very specifically that they were demoralizing and disheartening and he characterized them very specifically that way,” Blumenthal said of Gorsuch. “I said they were more than disheartening and I said to him that he has an obligation to make his views clear to the American people, so they understand how abhorrent or unacceptable President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are.”

Ron Bonjean, who is leading communications for Gorsuch during the confirmation process, confirmed Gorsuch called Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judge” “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in his conversation with Blumenthal.

Neil Gorsuch turned on Trump? Maybe he did, but in a second-hand way. This wasn’t direct even if he was confirmed, and there was a second instance:

In the private meeting with Blumenthal, and in one with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Gorsuch seems to be trying to address the issue proactively.

Gorsuch told Schumer in a meeting Tuesday that an attack on his fellow judges is an attack on all, and he said he is incredibly disheartened when people attack his fellow judges, according to a source familiar with the discussion who paraphrased the judge’s comments…

Schumer spokesman Matt House said Gorsuch isn’t going far enough.

“Given the President’s comments, that a very milquetoast response,” House said. “Anyone can be disheartened, but the judge refused to condemn the comments privately or publicly.”

Neil Gorsuch is being careful, but Josh Marshall thinks that’s enough:

I fully expect that we will now see Democrats make almost the entirety of Gorsuch’s confirmation process into a review and critique of President Trump’s behavior in office, treatment of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law, reliance on executive orders and more – with a particular emphasis on the difference between what Gorsuch is willing to say in private and what he is willing to say in public, especially under oath.

Democrats will pin him down, unsettling things even if he is confirmed:

No judge with integrity can look kindly on what we’ve seen from President Trump. So I take his remarks at face value. This afternoon many observers said that this was also good politics for Gorsuch and his nomination. While I agree with that judgment as far as it goes, the logic assumes a President who is in control of his emotions and faculties. Neither of which are the case.

Remember, we know President Trump very well by now. He has just gifted Gorsuch the opportunity which is the ultimate prize in any elite judicial career. The idea that Gorsuch would now pass a negative judgment on Trump and his behavior as President can only strike him as a betrayal. Almost any other President would be able to prioritize his interests over his ego and give Gorsuch the room he needs. Trump will almost certainly not be able to.

I even think it is possible that before this is over Trump will be asking his aides whether it is possible for him to withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination even if he still seems certain to be confirmed.

That may be unlikely, but it’s certainly possible, and stupid:

It would be a wildly self-destructive act. But we know Trump. Ego and affirmation are everything. Betrayal and humiliation can never be allowed to stand.

Do not get me wrong. I do not expect any of this will lead to Gorsuch being rejected by the Senate. But I do expect that Democrats will be able to squeeze him tightly in a vise, one jaw of which is his judicial integrity and respect for the rule of law and the other which is his sponsor’s temper and fragile ego. Think of it as similar the clamp Sean Spicer is in between his public credibility and his boss’s approval, only less pitiful and with higher drama. It is not only Trump’s recent attacks on Judge Robart and attacks on the judiciary in general in recent days. There were also his caustic attacks on Judge Curiel in 2016 as unfit to judge his case because he was born to parents who were immigrants from Mexico.

This will be fun, but the Onion has a possible satiric solution to the Trump problem:

In an effort to respond to the vast and ever-changing dangers faced by the nation’s commander-in-chief, Secret Service administrators announced Wednesday the creation of an Emotional Protection Division to safeguard President Donald Trump’s psyche.

The new unit’s three dozen agents, who have undergone rigorous training to prepare for their challenging role, will be charged with defending the 45th president’s psychological well-being around the clock, investigating foreign and domestic threats to his self-esteem and quickly intercepting any spoken or written criticisms before they can harm his pride.

“After conducting a full review of the operational procedures available to us, it became clear that adding this new division was the only way to meet President Trump’s emotional security needs,” said Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, noting that the president’s detail is specially trained in assessing risks and minimizing any opportunity for him to feel insecure or belittled. “His psyche could be put in grave danger from unfavorable poll numbers or suddenly come under attack from a White House press corps heavily armed with uncomfortable questions.”

“All of our agents stand ready to lay down their lives to ensure nothing can hurt President Trump’s feelings,” he added.

This goes on and on and turns a bit lame – the best satire is in the sudden silences where the reader extrapolates – but this detail is cute:

According to officials, the Secret Service is reportedly conducting careful background checks on White House visitors to look for any red flags, such as A-list celebrities who might choose to decline a photo op with Trump. The department has also instituted measures to screen the president’s mail for messages that do not reinforce his belief in his own superiority, and to sweep any room before he enters to remove high-risk copies of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

He might find out that he really did lose the popular vote, but of course this is just satire, and this isn’t:

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) reportedly plans to file a bill that would require the White House to have an in-house psychiatrist.

“I’m looking at it from the perspective of, if there are questions about the mental health of the president of the United States, what may be the best way to get the president treatment?” Lieu told the Huffington Post.

“We’re now in the 21st century. Mental health is just as important as physical health,” he added.

The Democratic lawmaker reportedly plans to introduce the bill as early as next week.

That bill won’t get out of committee, but this guy is serious:

During his interview with the Huffington Post, the lawmaker said that “it is not normal” for the president to tweet about all of these topics within 24 hours. He also maintained that Trump is divorced from the facts of reality.

“His disconnection from the truth is incredibly disturbing. … When you add on top of that his stifling of dissent, his attacks on the free press, and his attacks on the legitimacy of judiciary, that takes us down the road toward authoritarianism. That’s why I’ve concluded he is a danger to the republic,” Lieu argued.

Perhaps he is, but Kevin Drum suggests that Trump is not really the problem, when you consider three things that have happened in the past month:

After years of promising to repeal Obamacare, Republicans finally have the power to do it. But they’ve suddenly discovered that it’s going to be a lot harder than they thought.

President Trump kept his campaign promise to institute “extreme vetting” of refugees and visitors to the US, but the rollout was bungled so horribly that he’s losing support for it even among Republicans.

Last week Trump approved his first military operation. It was a disaster. The evidence here is a bit murky, but it suggests that the raid was vetted less stringently than usual because of Trump’s desire to cut through red tape and give the military more freedom to fight terrorism.

What was settled wasn’t settled, nor could it be:

These are examples of what Barack Obama was talking about when he told Trump that “reality has a way of asserting itself.” More generally, it’s the result of a Republican Party that has been averse to policy for a very long time. They have principles and beliefs, but they don’t spend much time thinking hard about how to implement those principles in the most efficient possible way.

They believe that Obamacare is a failure. They believe that immigration should be shut down. They believe the military should be unleashed. But these are just bumper stickers. They haven’t spent much time developing serious policy responses on these topics because (a) that would give Democrats something concrete to attack, (b) their base likes bumper stickers, and (c) policy analysis has a habit of highlighting problems with ideological purity and pushing solutions toward the center.

Drum notes that George W. Bush had the same problem with policy and cites John Dilulio in his “Mayberry Machiavellis” letter to Ron Suskind:

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical, nonstop, 20-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking – discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.

Drum sees Trump as just an extension of that:

This problem is now a couple of decades old and shows no signs of abating. Quite the opposite: Donald Trump makes Bush look like an analytical genius. But even on their own terms, conservative rule is going to end disastrously if both Trump and congressional Republicans don’t spend a little more time on policy analysis and implementation issues. There are only so many disasters that even their own base will put up with.

That would settle matters in the other direction – but nothing is ever settled. And then there’s Elizabeth Warren. Nevertheless, she persisted. That’s a good thing. Nothing should ever be settled.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Persistence of Nonsense

  1. DWhite says:

    Your writing is quite cogent, but I fear you will burn out trying to keep up with the vagaries of this administration.

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