Fans of obscure nineteenth century British aphorisms tend to like William Shenstone, who once said that the world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.
That’s a British thing. Those brutal and cruel, or sporting and aristocratic, fox hunts have been an issue for ages. On this side of the pond we don’t concern ourselves with such things. For ritual blood sport NASCAR and the NFL will do just fine. But of course the Shenstone quip can make Americans smile. The world can be divided into those who do a lot of reading, to try to understand what is going on, which is endless research, and those who try to explain things to themselves, and to others, by writing things down in this order or that, which is careful analysis and re-analysis, and then those who don’t get around to either but do think long and hard about issues, and then those who just go out and do mindless things, because one ought to do something.
Fox hunting will do. That’s something to do, or this time it might be a preemptive war with Iran, not Iraq, for no reason anyone can settle on. As Marge Simpson says to a befuddled and worried Homer, trying in his odd way to think things through – “We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it.”
Cartoons can be useful. The French had become our enemy at the time because they would not join us in our war to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. They said that Bush should think this through. And here the Shenstone four-part division is a useful model. Most of our political discourse has become little more than tossing insults at each other. That pits the researchers and analysts and thinkers against the doers. We elected George W. Bush twice – maybe – and he was the fox-hunter sort. He had his mandate. Just do something and ignore the pinheads, those who want to consider all the implications and write all those analyses and reports and think deeply about this and that. Ignore the French or those who might as well be French.
America liked that. The writers at The Simpsons had Marge Simpson speak for America, for better or worse. And disaster followed and then America elected Obama, twice. He had his mandate too. Think things through. Make no sudden moves. He was not a fox hunter. But he wasn’t bold. He didn’t get nasty and sneer at our allies and threaten our enemies with total annihilation. He was careful. He was boring, so America elected Donald Trump.
He didn’t read. He didn’t write. He didn’t think. He had no time for that. He had no use for that. He did things, some of them stupid, some of them dangerous, some of them inexplicable, but he did do things. And he was never boring. He had a nasty dismissive nickname for everyone. He spends four to six hours each day watching Fox News and tweeting out hundreds of insults and threats. He doesn’t “govern” at all – he doesn’t read briefing papers and hold long discussions with his team and then act, or chose not to act. He just does things. He just says things.
And he may not be reelected. His presidency is bordering on the absurd. But it’s not that simple. America doesn’t keep changing its mind about the sort of person that should lead the country. The nation is pretty much evenly divided between those that read, that write, that think, and those who have no use for that – the fox hunters, those who do, and worry about the consequences later. The presidency is decided by those who can’t decide which they prefer – the reasonable (safe) candidate or exciting (but dangerous) candidate – the safe Democrat or the bad-boy Republican.
That’s a relative handful of voters, because everyone else has already decided. They decided long ago, and now, before the next election, the issue is impeachment, and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sees this playing out again:
There is perhaps no better encapsulation of the difference between the two modern American political parties than this one: Republicans start from the presumption that “treason” and “spying” will be prosecuted without actual evidence, while Democrats start from the presumption that only once they have seen all the evidence of everything ever, they might conclude that some further investigation is warranted.
Donald Trump leads deranged stadium rallies in chanting “lock them up” without ever specifying who committed what alleged crime. Democrats, faced with a case of what would be felony obstruction of justice but for a legal guidance against prosecuting a sitting president, insist that they cannot initiate impeachment proceedings because they need to gather more information.
That may seem too stark a contrast, but that is the situation, and Lithwick is playing the part of Marge Simpson now:
Those of us who feared that the Mueller report would never be the smoking gun Democrats were dreaming of warned that limiting the reach of the aperture to criminal obstruction and illegal “collusion” by necessity blocked out a massive range of criminal and impeachable conduct by the president and his confederates.
Last week Walter Dellinger made the same observation about the Democrats’ strange myopia around the new holy grail – an unredacted Mueller report. As the former solicitor general put it:
“Mueller’s extraordinary 2,800-subpoena, 500-search-warrant, two-year investigation fully established not merely crimes but also the betrayal of the president’s office: a failure to defend the country’s electoral system from foreign attack and acts of interference with justice that shred the rule of law. Congress doesn’t need to read more to announce what is obvious from what it should have read already.”
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though, individual political calculus continues to take precedence over the rule of law.
Impeachment would benefit Trump – his base would be even more energized and the Senate, in Republican hands, would never convict their guy of anything – and then the Democrats would look like fools and whiners. So what’s the point?
Consider pointillism. All the dots form a stunning painting. Lithwick says that is the point:
Republicans standing two inches away from a Seurat painting see a still life in crimes committed, while Democrats standing six feet back are certain that just one more blue dot would help them see the whole picture.
The problem with Democratic pointillism is that if congressional Democrats truly refuse to see the big picture, after the staggering proof put forth in the Mueller report, the daily reports of gross financial misconduct and corruption, and the administration’s growing refusal to accede to any form of congressional oversight, one has to wonder which hypothetical red dot or yellow smear might persuade them that, um, crimes. Perhaps some belief in Trump’s infamous boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a man without losing support has spooked Democrats to the point of paralysis.
The reality is that Democrats on the Hill know what criminal obstruction looks like – they are just too terrified to say so.
But it’s more than that:
The other problem is that House Democrats want to look like measured and rational adults in the face of the biggest toddler tantrum ever witnessed in presidential history, one in which the Constitution is being repurposed as a diaper. But as any parent or even uncertified Red Cross babysitter will tell you, every time you decline to impose consequences, you move the line for acceptable behavior a little further.
Mueller is himself trying to look measured and rational by demurring from testifying.
Looking adult and rational in the face of abject insanity is not always synonymous with bravery, especially when the other side is shouting TREASON and LOCK THEM UP and INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS.
That’s a trap of course:
Democrats, who say they want to focus on the economy, or the 2020 elections, or other kitchen table issues, give up more and more authority to the reckless, power-snatching president by the day. By attaching no real consequence, they are essentially telling the country that Steven Mnuchin should keep defying a House subpoena of the president’s tax records and Donald McGahn should keep refusing to testify on obstruction of justice. In ceding that power to a president who believes himself all-powerful, they are simply making it so.
So listen to Marge and do something:
Democrats in leadership pretend at conviction and lack courage. The president is lawless and corrupt and surrounding himself with the machinery of lawlessness and corruption… This shouldn’t be complicated.
It isn’t complicated. Alison Durkee reports this:
House Democrats’ call to begin impeachment proceedings grew even louder Tuesday, as former White House counsel Don McGahn’s refusal to testify before the House only intensified Democrats’ argument that an impeachment inquiry may be the only way to break through the Trump administration’s stonewalling.
Among those adding their voice to the chorus was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who forcefully spoke out about the need to start the impeachment process. Our institutions “have been damaged greatly today [with the] unwillingness to impeach,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Failure to impeach now is neglect of due process.”
The freshman congresswoman continued to advocate for impeachment in an interview Tuesday evening with Reuters, in which she pushed back against House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s argument that an inquiry is not worth the political risk.
“I think that, at a certain point, this is no longer about politics,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is about upholding the rule of law.”
And it is about logic too:
Though the New York representative emphasized that she “respects” Pelosi’s leadership and knows that she’s “working very hard to bring the party together,” Ocasio-Cortez criticized the logic of Pelosi’s argument, claiming, “Just as impeaching without cause could be construed as, and is, politically motivated, choosing to not impeach when there is an abundance of cause could also be construed similarly.”
So that’s a second Marge Simpson – “Do something for a change!”
And that may soon be the general idea:
Ocasio-Cortez was far from the only Democrat making pro-impeachment overtures Tuesday, as lawmakers including Reps. Madeleine Dean, Don Beyer, and Ilhan Omar made statements in support of starting impeachment inquiries.
The Huffington Post noted that one-third of the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority now supports impeachment, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus met Tuesday to discuss ways in which an inquiry could begin. “In politics there are always risks of acting and risks of not acting,” House Judiciary member Rep. Jamie Raskin said in an interview with the Washington Post, adding that the power to remove the president was built into the Constitution as “the people’s last line of constitutional self-defense against a president who tramples the rule of law and acts like a king.”
“If we don’t respond constitutionally to the evidence advanced by the special counsel, have we dramatically lowered the standards for presidential conduct?” he asked.
And early steps toward impeachment could be happening sooner rather than later. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee vowed Tuesday to introduce a “Resolution of Investigation,” which she described as a method of “educating the American public” that could ultimately result in impeachment.
Somehow that doesn’t matter:
President Trump joked at a campaign rally on Monday that he could serve as many as five terms in the White House.
“Now we’re going to have a second time,” Trump said in Montoursville, Pa., recounting the details of his surprise election victory in 2016.
“And then we’ll drive them crazy. Ready? And maybe if we really like it a lot and if things keep going like they’re going, we’ll go and we’ll do what we have to do. We’ll do a three and a four and a five.”
“We’re going to have another one, and it’s going to be great,” the president clarified as the crowd cheered him on.
He had the crowd whipped up. About one third of America will now demand this. Do it. Don’t think about it:
This is not the first time Trump has joked that his popularity is so strong he may have to exceed his constitutional term limits. Earlier this month, he retweeted a post from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. that said Trump’s first term should be extended by two years as payback “for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”
The mention of a “coup” was a reference to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The retweet came days after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she is worried Trump may not accept the results of the 2020 election if Democrats do not beat him by a wide margin.
There is perhaps no better encapsulation of the difference between the two modern American political parties than this too. “Those people” think too much! Let’s drive them crazy! Why not? Do it!
At least Donald Trump isn’t boring, and that’s the next dilemma. Who do Democrats nominate to counter THAT nonsense?
Michelle Goldberg thinks they should learn from the Republicans:
“My heart still belongs to Howard Dean because of his passion, but my head says Kerry is the one who can get elected,” a voter told The New York Times in 2004, when Democrats were desperate to unseat George W. Bush. Many Democrats thought that John Kerry, a war hero, could puncture the puffed-up commander-in-chief aura that surrounded Bush, who’d kept himself out of Vietnam. It didn’t work out that way.
Four years later, Democrats decided to follow their hearts and nominate Barack Obama, who spoke to their most sublime hopes for their country. Republicans, meanwhile, went with John McCain, who’d often infuriated the party’s base, but whose campaign emphasized his general election viability. A poll in January 2008 showed that he was seen as the most electable of the Republican candidates, and one of his advertisements claimed that he could “rally the conservative Reagan coalition while appealing to independent voters to win in November.” He picked the risible Sarah Palin as a running mate to whip up energy on the right, but still lost.
By the time of the next presidential cycle, Republicans were even more obsessed with besting Obama, leading them to once again put a premium on electability. “The only reason I’m supporting Romney is because he can win the election,” a conservative voter in Iowa told The Washington Post in 2011. Romney, of course, couldn’t win the election.
It wasn’t until 2016 that a plurality of Republican voters defied the electoral wisdom of party elites, nominating a clownish demagogue who channeled the id of the far right and was supposed to have no chance of victory. We all know what happened next.
And that’s the lesson:
Intensity – the thing that turns a campaign into a movement, that leads people to donate more than they can afford, host house parties and spend their free time knocking on the doors of strangers’ houses – matters. That’s especially true in a country as polarized as ours, where turnout is as important as persuasion.
Ultimately, the paradox of primaries is that it’s most strategic to ignore the experts and follow your emotions.
Democrats did that once, long ago, and went with Obama. But they may be too careful now. They read. They write. They think. There just aren’t quite enough Americans who like that sort of thing at the moment. But they can do something. Pull the trigger. Impeach the guy. There’s no choice. There’s enough evidence already. Or do nothing, and then it’s all over forever.