No Fixing This

Spite is a curious thing. Here in Hollywood it’s a useful plot device. Imagine a rather unhinged villain, a rather stock villain. He didn’t get the fame or fortune he knew he was supposed to get, or he didn’t get the girl, or no one took him seriously, or worse yet, people laughed at him. But he’ll get his beautiful revenge, out of spite. He’ll burn it all down. He’ll ruin everything for everybody – Heath Ledger as the Joker, Ricardo Montalban as Khan – burn it all down, blow up everything taking everyone with you. You didn’t ger what you wanted. Now no one will have anything left at all. That will show them! That will show them all!

Add a self-effacing easy-going but no-nonsense hero and the rest of the screenplay writes itself. That hero saves the world. Fade to black. Roll the end-credits. Count the box-office receipts. Bank your profits.

So, imagine a rather unhinged villain, obsessed with revenge and filled with spite. No one took him seriously. People laughed at him. But that had served him well. He showed them. He became president. And then everything went wrong. He was impeached. And then he was impeached again. And then he was voted out of office. And in that election, his party lost control of both the House and Senate. And along the way Twitter banned him from their platform. They took away his voice. Facebook banned him too. He could no longer broadcast his outrage.

But he’d show them. He’d blow up the world. Except he no longer had the nuclear attack codes or that “nuclear football” nearby. Donald Trump, known for his obsessive vengefulness, whose life and success had almost exclusively been driven by spite, had lost everything. And his party had too.

This screenplay writes itself. It was time to burn everything down. The Washington Post reports on that:

Republicans are increasingly divided over the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will soon become law, with tensions rising among GOP members over whether the party should remain united against all aspects of President Biden’s agenda or strike deals in the rare instances when there is common ground.

What’s wrong with fixing a few roads and bridges? This wasn’t Biden’s big “Build Back Better” bill about child care and paid parental leave and adding dental and vision to Medicare, and free community college and tax credits to end childhood poverty, some climate change measures and all the rest. This was the smaller bill that both sides had agreed on months ago – physical infrastructure – a lot of money but no one had complained. This wasn’t the Biden Monster.

That didn’t matter:

Former president Donald Trump has led the call to trash the bill while deriding Republicans who voted for the measure, saying they should be “ashamed of themselves” for “helping the Democrats.”

At a private event hosted by the House Republican campaign arm Monday night in Florida, Trump took time out of his 90-minute speech that focused mostly on his baseless claims about the election and attacking Biden to throw a jab at the 13 House GOP lawmakers who supported the infrastructure package.

“I love all the House Republicans. Well, actually I don’t love all of you. I don’t love the 13 that voted for Biden’s infrastructure plan,” Trump said, according to the recollection of a person who attended the event and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private gathering.

The thirteen didn’t realize that they had just become traitors. That did seem odd:

His comments came just hours after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) told reporters in his home state of Kentucky that he was “delighted” the bill will soon be signed into law, touting the improvements it would make to the state’s roads and bridges.

“This will be the first time I’ve come up here in a quarter of a century when I thought maybe there was a way forward on the Brent Spence Bridge,” McConnell said, according to a local report, referring to a bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio that is one of the nation’s worst bottlenecks.

But of course he had no idea that that wasn’t the point at all:

The divisions and hard feelings over the bill reflect the degree to which Republicans have defined themselves heading into the 2022 midterms as being against whatever Biden and the Democrats are for. Any crack in that approach has led to charges of disloyalty from Trump and his allies and an uneasiness among many GOP congressional leaders who are unsure how to navigate a situation where the party is not neatly aligned against Biden.

Mitch wanted that bridge fixed. He didn’t get it. He needs to pay attention to the other chamber:

The tensions are highest in the House where some members who voted for the bill have been the subject of heated criticism from colleagues – led by Trump loyalists Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) – and who have received menacing and threatening messages at their offices.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) – a moderate who voted for the infrastructure package – said during an interview Monday evening on CNN that a caller left a message with his office that was filled with expletives and called him a traitor. “I hope you die,” the caller said, adding that he hoped everybody in his family died as well.

Maybe an angry Trump voter will kill Upton and his family. That would show others the cost of defying Donald Trump. Trump could crow about that. That’s where this could be heading:

House Republican leaders have done nothing to come to aid of the 13 who voted for the bill, remaining silent even as these members publicly disclose the harassment they have faced. The office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not respond to a request for comment.

His silence is his implied death threat in these cases, although others see madness:

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) defended his vote for the bill Tuesday, saying it will help improve the “atrocious state of our infrastructure” while noting his office has received a “substantial amount of troubling phone calls.”

“Ronald Reagan cut deals all the time with Democrats for the good of the country. That is what we’re supposed to do. This isn’t a zero-sum game,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Spectrum News. “There’s always going to be people in the cheap seats who are going to be naysayers, but that’s the nature of the business. But the bottom line is, we got to move this country forward.”

No, we need to blow it up. Out of spite. Trump said so. Kevin McCarthy agrees with Trump. But this is a House thing only:

Senate Republicans have largely avoided cannibalizing 19 of their colleagues who voted in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in August. And much of the anger at the 13 House Republicans is fueled by the argument that they bailed out Democrats with their votes and the bill would have otherwise gone down in an embarrassing defeat for Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

With this in mind, allies of Trump are looking to punish these members, particularly those who hold senior committee positions.

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in interview on Stephen K. Bannon’s “War Room” podcast Tuesday that all 13 members should “absolutely” be stripped of their committee assignments by House leadership in the coming days.

“These people voted for Joe Biden, for an infrastructure bill that will clear the way for more socialist spending that will, quite frankly, gives Joe Biden a win,” Meadows said. “I don’t know how you can send a clearer message than saying, ‘Listen, obviously you’re not on our team. We’re going to give that leadership position to somebody else.’”

That was odd. Forget the nineteen Republican senators who voted for this. They’re weird. But the thirteen in the House are ungrateful or pure evil:

Fifteen minutes into the Friday night roll call, five Republicans had already voted yes before even a single Democrat had voted no, making it clear the legislation would pass without much Democratic drama. All five – Reps. Jefferson “Jeff” Van Drew (R-N.J.), Upton, Don Young (R-Alaska), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Katko – are beneficiaries of McCarthy’s fundraising apparatus because they face tough reelection contests. Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Andrew R. Garbarino (R-N.Y.) and David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) also voted in favor of the measure.

Kinzinger, Katko and Gonzalez also voted to impeach Trump and to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

All of that hurt:

In the end, only six liberals bucked Pelosi and Biden’s entreaties and opposed the legislation, enough to torpedo it, but the 13 GOP votes gave the Democratic speaker a comfortable victory, 228-206.

The pro-Trump wing of the conference immediately took notice.

“Kevin McCarthy isn’t the cause of these problems. He’s the symptom because we have Republicans willing to say, ‘Aw, shucks, we’ll always lose a few.’ Nancy Pelosi is in the majority, and she lost less than half the votes that we lost in the minority,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said during a Newsmax interview Monday. “That’s why, frankly, the morale in the Republican conference is very low right now and we need back up.”

“We’ll always lose a few?” That’s a demoralizing statement? That’s real life. But of course Trump keeps amping up the suggestion to punish the thirteen Republicans who defected, He want his revenge. And really, Biden just made him look like a fool:

While in office, Trump repeatedly tried to strike an infrastructure deal, an agenda item that was less liked by many of his senior aides and conservative Republicans. He imagined going across the country and attending events for infrastructure projects, talking about his work as a builder, said former aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. While “infrastructure week” was a joke to many, it was a topic Trump brought up somewhat regularly, these former aides said.

And now Biden is saying it’s infrastructure week, finally, with a sly little smile that must drive Trump crazy. That’s taunting.

Fine. Infrastructure is now evil. Biden likes it. It must be evil:

On Monday morning, Texas GOP candidate Monica De La Cruz blasted the Republicans who backed the Democratic bill. “I still can’t believe 13 Republicans voted for this unfundable bill, $3 trillion worth of social policy, infrastructure and climate change programs,” De La Cruz tweeted, misrepresenting the cost of the bill and the policies it contains, adding three red-flag emoji to show her opposition to her fellow Republicans.

She got the two bills confused. This was the small basic one, physical infrastructure, not the larger “social infrastructure” bill that’s still pending, at half the cost she cites. But she was angry. That’s what counts here:

Hours earlier, McCarthy announced that De La Cruz was part of the initial eight GOP candidates who received “Young Gun” status, a program that McCarthy co-launched in the 2008 campaign. That connotation means the GOP leader considers these recruits his very best and it serves as an instruction to his most loyal donors to focus their money on these candidates.

Another “Young Gun,” Esther Joy King of Illinois, called the legislation something for the “Radical Left” that is supported by Pelosi. “We have to fight this wasteful bill,” she tweeted, “with all we’ve got!”

Really? There are others in the party:

The Republicans who supported the bill argue that these arguments are shortsighted and that the party should be focused on what the package can do for their communities while attacking other parts of the Biden agenda.

“This is the last opportunity we have to make sure those potholes are filled, those airports run right, that bridges are safe, and our economy can continue to grow. This is the only chance we have,” Young, who co-authored a massive highway bill in 2005, said during a recent floor speech. “To my colleagues who are voting no, I’d say: Think about it, what is the other alternative?”

And think about what people see:

Democrats have mostly reveled in the GOP infighting after Republicans tried to make political hay out of the divisions among Democrats recently on display as the party hashed out its differences over an economic and social spending package.

Biden expressed amazement at the situation on Tuesday and bemoaned that a bipartisan agreement could generate such anger.

“I’ve never seen it like this before,” Biden said at a town hall hosted by the Democratic National Committee. “It’s got to stop.”

Really? Did the Joker stop? And we are dealing with a party of Jokers. Paul Waldman sees that:

In a way, those Republicans are right to be mad, because infrastructure improvements are indeed a liberal plot to undermine everything the contemporary GOP stands for.

Yes, some Republicans – 19 in the Senate and 13 in the House – did vote for the bill. In those votes you can see the fading vestiges of an age when members of both parties considered it their obligation to deliver tangible benefits for their constituents. That’s how you got reelected: a repaired bridge here, a new hospital wing there, all celebrated with a ribbon-cutting at which the congressman or senator who brought home the bacon was center stage for the local media.

But your hometown paper has probably gone out of business or been bought up by private equity vultures and stripped for parts. And for most Republican officeholders, what matters now is what’s airing on Fox News, where the culture war is king.

So, forget roads and bridges and consider Big Bird:

Republicans spent the weekend pretending to be outraged that “Sesame Street” was telling kids not to be afraid of vaccinations, even though Big Bird has been talking to kids about vaccines for half a century. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) immediately denounced it as “Government propaganda for your five-year-old!” Across Fox News, apoplectic talking heads pummeled the show. An Arizona state senator tweeted “Big Bird is a communist.”

All of which no doubt left the Republican base with the warm feeling that can only come from a good round of shaking your fist at liberals. Meanwhile, Democrats are asking themselves whether their infrastructure bill can actually be turned into a political winner.

This is quite possible:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who voted for the bill) is touting the good it might do for his home state of Kentucky; he clearly doesn’t want Democrats to get all the credit. But the more visible its effects are – and the more Republicans characterize it as a socialist boondoggle (or attack their own leadership because a few of their members in the House helped pass it) – the more Democrats will have an opportunity to use it as a case study in what Democratic governance actually does for people’s lives. Already, the White House is dispatching Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress across the country to promote the coming repairs and upgrades to roads, bridges and much more.

And all they have to do is point out the obvious:

The fact that Republicans failed to pass infrastructure improvements everyone acknowledged were necessary when they were in charge, but Democrats succeeded, reveals a key truth: Only one party is serious about governing these days.

If you’re a wealthy person looking for a tax cut, Republicans will come through for you. But on more fundamental obligations of government, such as making sure you have clean water to drink, only one party will really try to deliver. It wasn’t always that way – Dwight Eisenhower was substantially responsible for building the interstate highway system – but it is now.

And that makes Eisenhower a liberal icon of sorts:

Infrastructure is fundamentally liberal because, when it’s done well, it reinforces the idea that there are important things that only government can do. As long as you believe that, you’ll be favorably inclined toward politicians who actually want government to do those things – and just as important, can make it happen.

That doesn’t mean the administration will have an easy time convincing voters that this bill (and the Build Back Better social infrastructure bill, should it pass as well) is a great reason to get out and vote for Democrats. Many of the benefits will take months or years to be felt in people’s lives. And in a polarized age, nothing drives voter turnout like anger.

But there is common sense, and if the White House is dispatching Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress across the country to promote the coming repairs and upgrades to roads and bridges and such, the message can be quite simple:

They should argue that what matters about that new bridge in your town is not only that Democrats delivered it but that Republicans fought against it.

Will it work to say, “While our opponents are complaining about Big Bird, we’re actually helping improve your lives”?

It’s certainly worth a shot.

But there is spite. And there is Donald Trump. Make American Great Again! But he has his new message. Burn it all down!

People laughed at him. They’ll be sorry. Or he’ll be forgotten. The country may move on.

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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