The Buzzsaw of Outrage

America should have known what it was getting into. A month before the election, Josh Marshall offered a simple explanation:

The need to assert dominance is at the root of all of Trump’s actions. His whole way of understanding the world is one made up of dominators and the dominated. There’s no infinite grey middle ground, where most of us live the vast majority of our human relationships. That’s why even those who are conspicuously loyal are routinely humiliated in public. In that schema, Trump simply had no choice but to lash out, to rebalance the equation of dominance in his favor. It’s an impulse that goes beyond reason or any deliberation. That’s what left so many would-be or maybe allies flabbergasted at how or why he would have walked straight into such a buzzsaw of outrage.

Ezra Klein seconded that:

Now think about that driving impulse to prove dominance in a context where Trump’s dominance is really being threatened – where he’s being challenge by Hillary Clinton, by Paul Ryan, by the New York Times, by the knuckleheads on CNN, by the polls. Imagine what that’s like. Imagine how that feels. Imagine how painful it is to watch the entire country come to view you as a loser.

You have to fight it. You have to. Your whole sense of self-worth hangs in the balance. And so you find the polls that show you actually won the debate. You swear to take your revenge on the Republican traitors who abandoned you. You promise to bankrupt the outlets that humiliated you. You rally your faithful and recede into a protective cocoon of sycophants, friendly crowds, internet surveys, and golden toilet seats.

That’s where we are now – but there’s an even simpler explanation for why Donald Trump is president. Just enough voters in just the right places liked a guy who just popped off and said anything that came to mind, no matter how absurd and how offensive – in fact, the more offensive the better. They were pissed off at everything – Mexicans and Muslims and gays and urban hipsters and fancy-pants experts and the French and the Chinese and all “politicians” in general. Donald Trump just sneered and mocked them all. Donald Trump said what they dare not say, in public. He was their surrogate. He was one of them.

That’s where things stand today. A bit more than a third of the nation still feels that way. They have their surrogate buzzsaw of outrage. He practices the politics of dominance – actual policy is hardly an issue. Winning is the issue. Trump told them that America would win so much they’d all be tired of winning. Hell, they’d be bored – but they’d love it.

That was a good line, but things haven’t worked out. Congress is the problem. They can’t pass any major legislation for the guy. They can’t even kill Obamacare. After seven years of Republicans saying that they had a better plan all along, they said that they would reveal that plan after they won it all – the House and the Senate and the White House. They won it all. They had nothing. They offered farce.

The New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan recaps the third day of the ongoing farce:

The Senate on Wednesday soundly rejected a measure that would repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act without providing a replacement, leaving Republicans still searching for a path forward to fulfill their promise of dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

Seven Republican senators joined Democrats to vote against the measure, which had been embraced by conservatives but could have left millions of people without health coverage.

The rejection of “clean repeal” laid bare the deep divisions within the Republican caucus about how best to proceed. The night before, nine Republicans, including both conservatives and moderates, voted against comprehensive legislation to repeal the health law and provide a replacement.

That left this:

Without the votes to replace the health law or to simply repeal major parts of it, Senate Republicans appeared increasingly likely to try to pass a modest measure that would repeal only a few provisions of the law, such as the tax on medical devices and the requirements that most individuals have insurance and that large employers offer coverage to workers.

But even that narrow bill could have a significant impact on the nation’s health care system. Democrats on Wednesday night released a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the effects of repealing several provisions that could be part of a “skinny” repeal measure. The analysis found that the number of uninsured people would increase by 15 million next year compared with current law, and Democrats said they were told that premiums would be roughly 20 percent higher.

That won’t do either, but Jonathan Chait explains the strategy here:

Before Obamacare, a handful of states tried to regulate insurance to prohibit discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. But doing this without subsidies and an individual mandate simply drove healthy people out of the markets and created a death spiral. Analysts on the right and the left alike concluded these experiments were a failure. Conservatives have proposed various alternatives to the individual mandate, but the “skinny bill” does not contain any of these. It simply eliminates an important function of the current law.

It’s not clear whether the skinny bill would melt down the individual market altogether. There’s not much study of this as a stand-alone policy, mainly because it’s a terrible idea nobody has ever thought to propose, and Republicans came up with it just this week in a mad rush… but it is clear that the skinny bill would damage the markets and increase premiums while advancing no coherent policy objective.

That’s obvious, but that’s the clever plan:

The point, rather, is to reduce the repeal agenda to its most popular constituent elements, pass something that 50 Republicans can live with, and then create a chance to go to conference with the House and rewrite the proposal. Republicans are very clear about their belief that the skinny plan is not intended to be passed into law. “If we can get a skinny bill over (to the House), we can work in the conference committee to actually improve on the product,” South Dakota Republican senator Mike Rounds told reporters. The “content” of the bill is not the point, says Senator Bob Corker, who calls it a “forcing mechanism.”

That’s the politics of dominance – win – win something – win anything – but Chait sees that as losing:

The GOP’s failure to cohere around a proposal is not an incidental problem. It is a fundamental and unsolvable one. Conservative dogma is wholly incompatible with the development of any healthcare plan that is remotely acceptable to the public. The only solution in the face of this dilemma is to denounce Obamacare while promising something different and better to come along at a later date.

The Republican Party has stuck to the strategic imperative of putting off its plan as unswervingly as the Russian empire pursued its goal of securing a warm water port. It is why Republicans never developed an alternative during the health-care debate that might have peeled away moderate Democrats. It is why their years of repeal votes always promised a replacement to come later. It is why their first and best plan after Trump’s election handed them power was a two-stage “repeal and delay.”

The alternative to this endless farce is to admit the process of developing a Republican-only repeal and replace of Obamacare is a failure. It would be easy, almost trivially easy, to patch up the law and bring down premium costs – simply halting deliberate sabotage by the Trump administration would be enough. But this would admit that the party has spent eight years making promises that it could not fulfill. And a liar who is caught usually prefers to delay exposure as long as possible.

That means the farce will continue, and then Politico reported this:

Even a bare-bones repeal of Obamacare is no sure thing in the Senate. A handful of key Republican senators who had spurned earlier overtures from GOP leadership endorsed the latest plan to gut Obamacare’s individual and employer coverage mandates and its medical device tax. But several centrists said they’re undecided on the so-called skinny repeal, leaving the GOP in limbo through at least the end of the week.

The skinny alternative appears to be dead. They really do have nothing now. The politics of dominance is hard.

The politics of dominance is hard for the Big Guy too, as this news broke:

President Trump has discussed with confidants and advisers in recent days the possibility of installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment if Jeff Sessions leaves the job, but he has been warned not to move to push him out because of the political and legal ramifications, according to people briefed on the conversations.

The need to assert dominance may be at the root of all of Trump’s actions, but he may not be that dumb in this case:

Still raging over Sessions’ recusal from the Justice Department’s escalating Russia investigation, Trump has been talking privately about how he might replace Sessions and possibly sidestep Senate oversight, four people familiar with the issue said.

Two of those people, however, described Trump as musing about the idea rather than outlining a plan of action, and a senior White House official said no action is imminent. Several people familiar with the discussions said that Trump’s fury peaked over the weekend and that he and Sessions now seem to be heading toward an uneasy detente.

When asked about the president’s discussions of a recess appointment, the White House released a one-sentence denial from Trump: “More fake news from the Amazon Washington Post.” The Washington Post is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.

That denial may be moot:

Those who have discussed Sessions this week with Trump or with top West Wing officials have drawn different conclusions from their conversations – in part because the president ruminates aloud and floats hypotheticals, often changing his views hour to hour.

No one knows what’s coming next:

Some advisers have come away convinced that Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions and is seriously considering a recess appointment to replace him – an idea that has been discussed on some of the cable news shows the president watches. These advisers said Trump would prefer that the attorney general resign rather than have to be fired.

“My understanding is the Sessions thing ends with Sessions leaving the attorney general job to go spend more time with his family,” said one outside counselor to the White House, who, like many others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the subject is highly sensitive.

But others involved in the discussions have concluded that Trump is merely venting with his continued assault against Sessions – one described it as “an emotional exercise,” while another called it “just a rough-up job.” They said Trump has neither fully articulated nor set in motion a plan to replace Sessions.

But that may not matter:

Trump has long confided privately what he began to say publicly last week – that he blames Sessions’ recusal for setting in motion the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as the special counsel of the Russia probe, which the president sees as unfair and a metastasizing problem for himself and his family.

No good will come of that:

Several lawyers around Trump have been urging the president to stop his saber-rattling against Sessions and Mueller, according to three advisers. The president has countered that he believes the probe is a mere political attack – a “witch hunt” and “hoax,” as he often says on Twitter – and that he has no legal jeopardy to worry about.

But several lawyers have told Trump that his comments send a signal to Mueller that the president is trying to shut down or curtail the probe, as though he does have something to hide.

Trump has largely shrugged off these concerns. “In his mind, he is his own best advocate, his own best lawyer,” one adviser said. “He’s not willing to let the Mueller probe and other events unfold without taking action himself.”

That’s a bad idea:

Replacing Sessions could be a precursor to firing Mueller as special counsel. But several of Trump’s White House advisers – including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon – have strongly counseled him against ordering the dismissal of Mueller, which they have warned would be a political, if not legal, catastrophe, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Replacing Sessions with someone who would fire Mueller would be catastrophic. Trump’s daily tweets mocking and ridiculing and humiliating Sessions are bad enough, and Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky business, hates even those:

Mr. President, please cut it out. Tweet to your heart’s content, but stop the wildly inappropriate attacks on the attorney general. An honorable man whom I have known since his days as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, Jeff Sessions has recently become your piñata in one of the most outrageous – and profoundly misguided – courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital. What you are doing is harmful to your presidency and inimical to our foundational commitment as a free people to the rule of law.

In fact, take a junior high class in government:

The attorney general is not – and cannot be – the president’s “hockey goalie,” as new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci described Sessions’ job. In fact, the president isn’t even his client. To the contrary, the attorney general’s client is ultimately “We the People,” and his fidelity has to be not to the president but to the Constitution and other laws of the United States. Indeed, the attorney general’s job, at times, is to tell the president “no” because of the supervening demands of the law. When it comes to dealing with the nation’s top legal officer, you will do well to check your Twitter weapons at the Oval Office door.

In short, grow up, and E. J. Dionne connects all this:

President Trump’s lawless threats against Attorney General Jeff Sessions have a lot in common with the Senate’s reckless approach to the health coverage of tens of millions of Americans.

On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we are witnessing a collapse of the norms of governing, constant violations of our legitimate expectations of political leaders, and the mutation of the normal conflicts of democracy into a form of warfare that demands the opposition’s unconditional surrender.

The problem is the politics of dominance:

Trump’s latest perverse miracle is that he has progressives – along with everyone else who cares about the rule of law – rooting for Sessions. The attorney general is as wrong as ever on voter suppression, civil rights enforcement and immigration. But Sessions did one very important thing: He obeyed the law.

When it was clear that he would have obvious conflicts of interest in the investigation of Russian meddling in our election and its possible links to the Trump campaign, Sessions recused himself, as he was required to do.

Trump’s attacks on Sessions for that recusal are thus a naked admission that he wants the nation’s top lawyer to act illegally if that’s what it takes to protect the president and his family. Equally inappropriate are Trump’s diktats from the Oval Office calling on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton and those terrible “leakers” who are more properly seen as whistleblowers against Trump’s abuses.

This has to stop:

Our country is now as close to crossing the line from democracy to autocracy as it has been in our lifetimes. Trump’s ignorant, self-involved contempt for his duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” ought to inspire patriots of every ideological disposition to a robust and fearless defiance.

And meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue:

Where are the leaders of the Republican Party in the face of the dangers Trump poses? They’re trying to sneak through a health-care bill by violating every reasonable standard that citizens should impose on public servants dealing with legislation that affects more than one-sixth of our economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have little time for worrying about the Constitution because they are busy doing Trump’s bidding on health care.

Let it be said that two Republican senators will forever deserve our gratitude for insisting that a complicated health-care law should be approached the way Obamacare – yes, Obamacare – was enacted: through lengthy hearings, robust debate and real input from the opposition party. In voting upfront to try to stop the process, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski demonstrated a moral and political toughness that eluded other GOP colleagues who had expressed doubts about this charade but fell into line behind their leaders.

Again, the problem is the politics of dominance:

The most insidious aspect of McConnell’s strategy is that he is shooting to pass something – anything – that would continue to save Republicans from having a transparent give-and-take on measures that could ultimately strip health insurance from 20 million Americans or more. Passing even the most meager of health bills this week would move the covert coverage-demolition effort to a conference committee with the House.

The Senate’s unseemly marathon thus seems likely to end with a push for a “skinny repeal” bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer mandates and its medical device tax. But no one should be deluded: A vote for skinny repeal is a vote for an emaciated democracy.

It all fits together, and where does that leave us? Dana Milbank suggests this:

Healthcare legislation languishes without presidential leadership. The Senate fails to pass a measure crafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fails to pass an outright repeal and even fails to pass a proposal to go back to the drawing board.

Huge majorities in Congress, declining to bless President Trump’s love affair with Vladimir Putin’s regime, vote for new sanctions against Russian officials; legislation passes the Senate, 98 to 2, and the House, 419 to 3. The veto-proof rebuke to the president seizes a foreign-policy function from an unreliable commander in chief.

As the deadline looms to avoid a default on U.S. debt, Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate committee chairman, is heard on a hot mic saying she’s “worried” about the president’s stability and calling his administration’s handling of spending matters “just incredibly irresponsible.” She says she doubts Trump even knows how the budget process works.

Trump, baffling and alarming allies, goes on the attack against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was an outspoken supporter of Trump’s candidacy. Trump clearly wants Sessions to resign, but Sessions is ignoring him. Sessions’ former colleagues in the Senate back him over his boss – and they hope Trump isn’t crazy enough to start a crisis by firing Sessions and then special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Meanwhile, the president continues to sow chaos with perpetual distractions. He fires off a tweet Wednesday morning announcing he is banning transgender people from serving in the military. The tweet apparently catches even the Pentagon by surprise and draws rebukes from pro-military Republicans who argue that all able-bodied, patriotic Americans should be allowed to serve.

This is not the politics of dominance:

This is what it might look like if there were no president at all: stuff happens, but nothing gets done. Actually, the majority in Congress has great difficulty even doing nothing…

So it goes when a president doesn’t act like one: all fury, no function.

Donald Trump really is only a buzzsaw of outrage, and the quite conservative Ross Douthat has a problem with that:

Donald Trump’s campaign against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet-shame Sessions into resignation, is an insanely stupid exercise. It is a multi-tiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly that leaves many of the president’s prior efforts in its shade… it’s basically madness all the way to the top: bad policy, bad strategy, bad politics, bad legal maneuvering, bad optics, a self-defeating venture carried out via deranged-as-usual tweets and public insults.

Perhaps the 25th Amendment might help:

Trump hasn’t had a stroke or suffered a neurological disaster, and his behavior in the White House is no different from the behavior he manifested consistently while winning enough votes to take the presidency.

But he is nonetheless clearly impaired, gravely deficient somewhere at the intersection of reason and judgment and conscience and self-control. Pointing this out is wearying and repetitive, but still it must be pointed out.

You can be as loyal as Jeff Sessions and still suffer the consequences of that plain and inescapable truth: This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better.

America should have known what it was getting into. America didn’t know. America knows now. The politics of dominance is a dead end. Outrage leads nowhere. And who needs a buzzsaw?

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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