They think they are respected and in the majority, so the majority should just shut up and respect them already

>> Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Many of President Trump’s most dedicated supporters — the sort who waited for hours in the Florida sun this weekend for his first post-inauguration campaign rally — say their lives changed on election night. Suddenly they felt like their views were actually respected and in the majority. 
Washington Post, February 19th, 2017

And here is where we wonder about Trump supporters yet again.  I mean, the guy lost the popular vote by three million votes.  He scraped through the GOP primaries with less than half of the primary voters' support.  Their views have never been actually respected and in the majority.

But there's no self-awareness here.  I mean, there are evangelical religious conservatives, f'r'instance, who understand they're a minority and milk that for all it's worth.  They take it as their mission to take up spiritual arms against an evil, secular majority that has strayed from God's path.  But Trump supporters?  They don't get it.  Hell, even if you accept their ludicrous premise that Trump would have won the popular vote but for the millions of chimerical fraudulent voters they've been told are out there somewhere, they're discounting the patently obvious fact that a lot of Republican voters in 2016 weren't Trump supporters, but decided to aid-and-abet or collaborate because they hated Hillary Clinton so damn much.

It is so hard to be nice about this.  And one feels like one should at least be civil, but this is ridiculous.  This is stupid.  The views of Trump's most dedicated supporters aren't even respected and in the majority of Trump voters.

"They’re stonewalling everything that he's doing because they’re just being babies about it," said Patricia Melani, 56, a Jersey native who now lives here and attended her third Trump rally Saturday. "All the loudmouths? They need to let it go. Let it go. Shut their mouths and let the man do what he’s got to do. We all shut our mouths when Obama got in the second time around, okay? So that’s what really needs to be done."

And then you get down the page, and there's this.  And the thing I'd draw your attention to is not how we're being insulted again (get used to that), but the sheer cluelessness of the last sentence.  Read that again: "We all shut our mouths when Obama got in the second time around, okay?"

I mean... really?  Seriously?  I would like to be civil and nice and not bluntly insulting about this, but even if I follow what logic there is in Ms. Melani's complaints, clearly I shouldn't be shutting my mouth until President Impeachment-Waiting-To-Happen gets re-elected.  If that happens.  And let's be honest, a lot of us won't be talking at that point because we'll be stricken by apoplexy or unable to talk around the gun barrels we've put in our mouths.  I sort of kid?  I'm not saying I'll kill myself if Donald Trump is re-elected, but I may not have to because, again, apoplexy.  Or heart failure.  Or stroke, if that's not the same thing as apoplexy.  Or possibly just fatally hitting my head on the corner of some piece of furniture when I get the vapors.

Whatever.  The point, naturally, is that these people can't even get through a single thought without pretzeling it.

Several people said they would have liked to see more coverage of a measure that Trump signed Thursday that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation that would have restricted coal mines from dumping debris in nearby streams. At the signing, Trump was joined by coal miners in hard hats.

"If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work," Patricia Nana, a 42-year-old naturalized citizen from Cameroon. "I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything — you could see how happy they were." 

Oh, thank goodness, yes, isn't that great and fabulous?  Some workers in a dying, dangerous industry have been given a few more years of dying, dangerous jobs.  And the best part is that maybe the Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act and possibly (maybe, maybe not?) replace it with the Unaffordable Voucher System, hooray!  So that when their drinking water is turned into heavy metal sludge, they can have fun with bankruptcy.  Or see what Trump's Department of Labor has for them behind door number 2.  (Kidding.  There's only one door.  Hey, look, somebody put a cemetery behind it!  Hooray!)


She and her husband were well-versed on hold-ups with the president’s Cabinet nominees and legal arguments for the now-frozen travel ban. But they didn’t know much about the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday amid accusations that he improperly discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador — and then withheld that information from Vice President Pence and other top officials.

"See, don’t question me on that because I haven’t really been watching and listening too much on it," Melani said. "I think he kind of did it just to step away, a trust kind of a thing. And now, of course, they want to pull a big investigation and all of this stuff. And to be honest with you, I really think it’s only because of the way the haters are out there. That’s what I really think it is."

You gotta love it.  Arrested Development had a great phrase that came up periodically, "light treason" (as in, "I may have committed some light treason"), which is a pretty great way to describe misbehavior that maybe isn't technically giving aid and comfort to an enemy but seems spiritually akin to it.  And this seems like a fun and legit way to describe the contacts Trump personnel appear to have had with the Russians during the campaign and in the weeks before the inauguration.  But never mind that, because isn't the real sin that the media keeps reporting on this and people--including some Republicans--are kinda sorta just a tiny little bit upset about it?

It is so hard, it really is.  You want to be civil and kind, but how are you civil and kind towards adults whose reaction to something is to childishly stick their fingers in their ears and scream, hoping reality will abscond itself and leave them alone.  How do you treat that with any respect?  Honestly, what you want to do is you want to revoke their voting rights, since they clearly can't possibly be old enough to vote, and send them to their rooms without supper to think about what they've done until they're ready to apologize for being such fucking infants


In a crowd looking at four lights

>> Tuesday, February 14, 2017

With someone like this barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.
- Andrew Sullivan, "The Madness of King Donald"
New York Magazine, February 10th, 2017.

Except this isn't the real source of trepidation.  At some point, the shock and wonder that Big Brother is constantly dominating the news with lie after lie after lie wears off; you no longer are provoked and surprised, you roll your eyes and you laugh and shoot knowing looks at your neighbors--

And that is when the trepidation sets in.  Because some of your neighbors shoot knowing looks back, are rolling their eyes and laughing right along with you... but not all of them.  And you look around and realize that a number of people--a surprising number of people, aren't rolling their eyes and laughing and shooting knowing looks: a surprising number of people are nodding in agreement, are looking grim and serious.

None of that is necessarily literal, of course: it's reading the comment threads on articles about the latest round of lies, it's reading Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, it's stumbling into a conversation with a friend or relative who shocks you by repeating some new lie or old bit of gaslighting.  It seems self-evident, doesn't it, that there aren't five lights and the proper response to anyone saying that there are five lights is to shout back that there are only four--or maybe even to giggle, because even a small child can count to four and stop.  But there are people all around who are saying "Five," yes of course, there were always five.

And they don't even appear to be under duress, is the thing, you know.

You think to yourself, "Anyone who believes this has got to be stupid," and you look around again... and, again, no.  No, not really.  You see people nodding and affirming--there are five lights and three million illegal voters and seventy-eight unreported terrorist attacks on U.S. soil--and among them are people who have educations and careers and whose opinions you might have valued yesterday if you'd asked them for advice about buying a car or who to call about a leaking water heater or to suggest a good restaurant to take out-of-towners to.  People you'd listen to, or would have thought you'd have listened to, and now look at them.

You wonder, have you stumbled into an Asch conformity experiment?  Or did you lose your mind?  Or did they?  Who are these people?  Where did they come from?  And how did you get in here with them?

And this is when the existential horror sets in, because, really, there are only two possibilities, and they're both just awful.  The first is that you're right, but the world is crazier and far less stable and safe than you believed.  You are surrounded by people who are untrustworthy on a very fundamental level, the level of agreeing to a consensual reality.  Or, the second possibility, they're right and you've lost your mind if you ever had it, you're delusional, and you're crazier and far less stable and safe than you believed, and you are untrustworthy on a very fundamental level of being a part of a consensual reality.

An Asch conformity experiment?  Nevermind: you've wandered into a Philip K. Dick novel.

It's easy to forget that this is one of the real horrors of Oceania in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (since Sullivan alluded to Orwell).  The superficial horror is the one everyone remembers, Big Brother looking down from everywhere, but this isn't unlike thinking the monster is named Frankenstein.  Big Brother's surveillance state doesn't extend to the proles, it only covers those who are in the party, and not all the time, and a party rank-and-filer like Winston is frequently able to find a nook here or there to maintain a diary or conduct an illicit affair (even if, spoiler, those things might ultimately turn out to have been dangled in front of him to provoke him into thoughtcrime for the party's unfathomable purposes).  No, the real horror is the Memory Hole, the real horror is that Winston is facing a world that changes day by day and his own recollection of the pre-war, pre-Oceania world is constantly being eroded by the party's daily rewrites of what he knows to be true; and rather than being able to depend on other human beings to support his recall, he is surrounded by Two-Minute Haters who go along with the erosion of objectivity, sadistic cynics who don't care whether there's a reality or not so long as they get theirs, and a few like-minded people who will inevitably let him down and betray him.

I think we forget sometimes, that the point behind Orwellian ideas like Newspeak isn't that people say one thing meaning the opposite just for its own purpose, or even for the purpose of merely obscuring truths; Orwell was positing a much nastier, much more insidious idea: that language could be infantilized to a point that reality became impossible to talk about in the first place.  That you could turn language into gibberish not to hide what a state actor was doing (though that might be a definite plus), but rather to keep people from establishing a consensual reality where, say for instance, "freedom" or "justice" are meaningful things, things that have a common reality, however abstract, so that we can have a conversation about freedom or justice where we have a mutual understanding in which the conversation takes root and from which it blossoms.

Winston is alone in his ideas and memories, even though there are surely other people equally alone with shared ones.  All these islands of thought, in an ocean of consensual delusion.

That is at least as frightening as a ratcage hat.


Nearer the end

>> Friday, February 10, 2017

I have my better days and my worse days.  I feel a great deal of pride in the way my fellow Americans have responded to the Trump presidency*, from friends who have until now otherwise been apolitical for much of their lives to what appears to be a renewed vigor in the American press.  I haven't really lost confidence that Trump is likely to go down one way or another; in the three weeks he's been President, he's demonstrated levels of incompetence, venality, and instability that are surprising even to people like me who thought he was a greedy, nutty hack ten or fifteen years ago when he was mostly famous for going bankrupt in the casino industry.

But my worse days, I remind myself of how we got here, and I find myself wondering what happens when we beat him.  Because I have gone from thinking the Constitution is broken--something I've been saying for quite a while--to thinking that the Constitution is broken and we are in the midst of a Constitutional crisis of which Trump is paradoxically both a mere symptom and a catalyst; a crisis that has possibly been proceeding in slow motion since the end of World War II; a crisis that was in motion but masked for its first two or three decades by the willingness of national leaders to hew to republican traditions for the sake of form or honor, a willingness that seems to have gone by the wayside since the Obama administration, or maybe since the G.W. Bush administration.

Ezra Klein recently wrote an excellent piece for Vox observing that Donald Trump is, ironically, exactly the kind of disaster the Constitution is designed to mitigate and purge.  Whatever the Founders' many, many faults, they at least could imagine an autocratic Executive--a tyrant, in the classical sense of the word--attempting to use the enforcement and military authority of his office for personal gain and aggrandizement.  Hence the separation of powers.  As Klein writes:

But the danger of a demagogic, aspirational autocrat winning the White House is one problem the Madisonian constitutional order is exquisitely designed to handle. The founders feared charismatic populists, they worried over would-be monarchs, and so they designed a system of government meant to frustrate them.


The president can do little without Congress’s express permission. He cannot raise money. He cannot declare war. He cannot even staff his government. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to compel Trump to release his tax returns, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to impeach Trump unless he agreed to turn his assets over to a blind trust, they could. If Congress, tomorrow, wanted to take Trump’s power to choose who can and cannot enter the country, they could....

Klein goes on to point out a fatal vulnerability in this system: the Constitution is implicitly built around the premise that politicians won't be immune from acting towards regional interests (the interests of New Yorkers versus Virginians, say) or personal interests, and pits those interests against one another; but it completely overlooks the prospect that ideological and national interests--party interests--will override regional and personal interests.  That is, the Constitution is full of mechanisms to pit the representatives of Georgia against those of Delaware, or to pit the interests of Senators against those of Representatives, but it has nothing to deal with the ugly possibility--now the ugly reality--of two national parties each treating governance as a zero-sum game wherein the most important thing is scoring points for the national team and the needs of constituents or the Republic be damned.

Not only that, but the Constitution doesn't deal with the prospect of the parties themselves; that is, there's nothing setting forth whether there should be one party or a hundred, whether those parties are private or public entities, whether there should be some kind of balance between them, who they represent, etc..  Which has left it to the parties themselves to enforce democratic traditions (or not) and turned an electoral system premised on the states sorting out who should be President and Vice-President into an awkward hybrid of political parties choosing who should be President using the forms and structures of the state-centric system; i.e. the whole business of electors being beholden to which party won the election in a particular state instead of showing up to vote the interests of the states themselves.

And since the parties are left to their own devices to select their nominees, the parties themselves are subject to subversion that they may or may not have the wherewithal to fight.

I think this is where we remind ourselves how Trump got here: between February and April, 2016, the only time he cracked 50% of the votes in the Republican primaries was in the Northern Mariana Islands (where he was unaccountably popular); he continued  to have trouble getting 2/3 of the GOP primary vote until it became a three-man race and didn't consistently break 75% until his nomination was all but secure (and even then, there was an active, if ineffectual, "Never Trump" movement at the convention).  Overall, he won by a healthy plurality but merely a plurality, securing just under 45% of the GOP popular vote through the primary season; enough to secure the nomination, obviously, but it would be fair to say that 55% of Republican primary voters would have preferred somebody--anybody--else as a candidate.

It's probably also fair to say that many of those "Not Trump" Republican voters who went on to vote for Trump in the general election only did so out of their dislike for Hillary Clinton.

There's a good bit of circumstantial evidence (and even a few insider claims) that Trump never meant to win the nomination at all--or at least didn't mean to when he entered the race; that he entered the campaign as a publicity stunt and egoboo, and just happened to have the (mis)fortune to run in a year when the Republican field included a dozen people, the most qualified of whom ran as if he'd lost a bet with his family and dropped out in February 2016 after somehow barely scoring single-digit results in every state except New Hampshire (where he managed to crack double-digits with 11% of the vote).  In short, he stumbled into an exploit in a vulnerable system at a moment in time when it just happened to be exceptionally vulnerable.

Lest this be seen as a uniquely Republican problem, we might remind ourselves that Bernie Sanders was the "good" version of Donald Trump in the Democratic primaries.  While I voted for him in the NC Democratic primary, threw a little bit of money his way, and strongly supported his candidacy, it didn't escape my notice (and shouldn't have escaped yours) that Sanders was doing the exact same thing Trump was doing for completely different reasons: whereas Trump is a preening narcissist, Sanders has a career of public service and an obvious and consistent belief system regarding the purposes and uses of government for the public weal; nevertheless, he was also an outsider stepping into someone else's internal contest and benefiting from dissatisfaction with the "establishment" party candidates.

There were two crucial differences in the situations, of course.  First, that Sanders was a "good guy" interloper, representing actual values expressed by the Democratic party and representing the interests of at least a portion of the Democratic coalition.  The second--and this was frustrating for Sanders supporters despite the fact it was really a good thing--was that the Democrats had more robust internal mechanisms for fighting off an invader (even a heroic one) than the Republicans had.  And we have to call this a good thing even if some of us aren't wholly pleased with the results: consider an alternative in which Sanders isn't an interloper for the left, but someone wholly equivalent to Trump, simply playing a demagogic charade to steal the nomination from a real Democrat; you'd thank your stars for superdelegates.

Much as so many of us can wish there'd been something to stop Donald Trump at the Republican convention.

I realize that this seems like a long digression: from the vulnerability of our system when a partisan Congress lacks the will to stand in the way of an Executive from the same party, to the vulnerability of the parties to invaders who may not have the interests of the party at heart.  I sort of hope that last sentence shows where I'm going with that and where these two concerns join, however; the parties are susceptible to takeover from outsiders because they lack the means to stop an interloper, and then that takeover is inflicted upon the country if the interloper ends up in a position of power and the mechanism for reeling him in breaks down because the party is now in the position of having to accept him because they're more interested in their team "winning" than they are in whether the now-embraced interloper is fit to hold office.

Did that make sense?  I hope that made sense.

This leaves us in a terrible place.  I still have some hope that President* Trump will make himself such a nuisance that the House has no choice to impeach, fellow Republican or not.  And I think it's still possible he might be in a position where he's forced to resign, though the size of his ego leaves me a little skeptical about the size of that possibility.  There's also his age, his obvious misery, suggestions his health (mental and physical) may not be as best as he maintains, raising the possibility he could die in office or be subject to the "Twenty-Fifth Amendment solution" that's been murmured about here and there.

But whether Trump makes it through four years or doesn't, we will always be in danger of the situation we are in now.  And this is the long-brewing Constitutional crisis I fear has come to a boil.  Trump stumbled through vulnerabilities in the nominating process that any other politician--in either party--might exploit in some form or another; even if the parties fix their nominating mechanisms to make it harder for outsiders to secure the nomination, 2016 surely isn't the last time a party will enter the primary season with a veritable clown-car full of laughable aspirants bumbling out of the doors and trunk (not to mention that closing the party nominating process to outsiders has its own anti-democratic problems and in some ways doubles down on the problem of having a party-centered system of government under a non-party Constitution instead of mitigating the issue).  And there will still be the same problem--which we've already had under the Bush and Obama administrations, frankly--of the checks and balances in the system completely malfunctioning (effectively absent when the same party controls the Executive and Legislature, and completely obstructionist to the point of non-governance when the branches are controlled by opposing parties).

This problem has been brewing at least since the end of World War II (I have an argument for that marker, but this piece is already too long; suffice it to say, if you wanted to trace this problem all the way back to the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, or to any of the party-system-transition points in between, those are all fair and sound arguments that don't change the main point).  It's been mitigated by convention and tradition: until recently, the parties balanced their desire to win alongside some consensus that traditions dating back to George Washington and the First Congress be honored (or at least paid lip-service to).  It's been increasingly clear for a while that the Republicans can no longer be expected to honor those political mores and the Democrats can no longer afford to.  But the most depressing thing about the Trump presidency* is that he has precipitated this unstable situation into a contemporary crisis while accidentally creating a roadmap for any other demagogue who wants to take advantage of the system's infirmities on purpose.

And because this is a systematic, institutional problem, it isn't something we can fix by doing the things we can and will and need to do.  This is the part that's ruining me this week.  By all means, we have to do what we can within this terrible system to try to make it work, because it's the system we have; but it will still be broken even when we do, and I don't know what we do with the prospect of a complete system failure floating around in the air.  Liberals need to run for local races, call their representatives, get the vote out, support progressive institutions like the free press and organizations like the ACLU--but all of this is a lot like making short-term repairs to an automobile one can't afford to replace, knowing that one is sinking money into a vehicle that will eventually crap out and total itself with a blown engine or similar disaster.

I will say that we have had Constitutional crises before, and we have come out of them with new spins on the old order.  The American Civil War, for example, resulted in three amendments redefining citizenship and an implicit reordering of the country as a Federal entity (with the central government having supremacy over the individual states).  Maybe something like that happens at the end of the path we're on.  But what we need, really, is a new Constitution altogether, one that dispenses with the delusions of the old one, reinstates the ideals of liberty and justice, and acknowledges the reality of the United States as a vast and diverse global power in an age of rocketry and telecommunications.

I don't know how we get there.  I don't think we can.  And it agonizes me.


The Ford Maneuver

>> Friday, January 13, 2017

The only honest answer is that an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers [it] to be at a given moment in history; conviction results from whatever offense or offenses two-thirds of the other body considers to be sufficiently serious to require removal of the accused from office. 
- Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford's famous line is always the point zero if you want to talk about Presidential impeachment.  It sort of draws a collective gasp from the rule-of-law crowd whenever it comes up, but he's essentially right: Article II, section 4 of the Constitution doesn't say anything more than "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" without going to much trouble to explain what "high crimes and misdemeanors" might be (or even, for that matter, if the conjunctive in that phrase should be read exclusively--meaning high crimes or misdemeanors," which I think is what most people assume, or as written).  Meaning that, if the House of Representatives wanted, double-dipping into the hummus at a state function might be an impeachable offense.  Or leaving the toilet seat up.  Or nearly anything.

And this is one of the many, many things that makes the pending Trump Presidency surreal.  We might argue about whether allegedly violating the Tenure of Office Act was really an impeachable offense (or merely an exercise of Presidential prerogatives in ignoring a law of debatable constitutionality).  We might disagree about whether making a misleading statement of questionable materiality while under oath is technically perjury and/or obstruction of justice and whether these things are really encompassed by the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors."  But bribery--the granting of a gift or payment (or under-the-table "emolument," we might even say) for favor--is right there in the wording of the Constitution.  Conferring, directly or through proxy, with representatives of a foreign government about how to swing an election probably isn't technically treason--another term that's right there in the text--but it seems to be tip-toeing right up to the line of it, yeah?  Violating the Emolument Clause of the Constitution within seconds of being sworn in seems like it could be quite reasonably called a "high crime and misdemeanor" in a way that other hypothetically impeachable offenses might not be.  And so on, et cetera, what-have-you, and all that.  Do we need to stray very far into the conflicts-of-interest and rampant nepotism?  Or allegations of assault and deviancy?

The point being, it's not like the House of Representatives, should it come right down to the wire, is going to have to grasp at straws, here, should they ever have any desire to impeach Donald Trump.  They're not going to have to engage in anything that looks like a partisan witch hunt, they're not going to have to do a lot of moralistic (and possibly hypocritical) finger-wagging, they're not going to have to assemble any labyrinthine legal and constitutional theories to excuse themselves.  They're going to have black-letter law they can point at with this guy.1

This is surreal and baffling.

It also led Alex Pareene, earlier this week, to write an interesting and mostly-on piece earlier this week after Trump's midweek publicity stunt, with the self-explanatory title, "Republicans Have No Good Reason Not To Impeach Donald Trump."  Pareene rebuts the main obvious reasons that Republicans might not impeach Trump--fear of political blowback, the misconception he might be a good figurehead for their agenda, his utility as a human autopen--and... well, again, right there in the title.  Does what it says on the tin.  He misses a reason they might want to wait, I think; but we'll get to that in a minute or two.

I have no idea how long Donald Trump will be President for.  Could be four years.  Could be, Fates preserve us, eight.  But Trump's business entanglements, lack of anything resembling moral and/or personal ethics, narcissism, lack of self-restraint, inability to focus, general ignorance, and history of misbehavior all suggest that his hide and head belong to the House and Senate any time Congress wants to take their shot and claim their trophies.  The moment he's too big a political embarrassment, the moment he doesn't do what he's told, he's out, if they want, when they want.  It's just a matter of will.  And the way things are going, that could be as soon as Trump lifts his hand off the Bible during the inauguration ceremony.

And yet, as I was thinking thoughts about all this, it occurred to me that there might be one other reason for waiting.  The Ford Maneuver, call it.  As in, yes, Gerald Ford (not Harrison, sorry, or even Henry), as in, yes, the same Ford we began the essay with.

Pareene writes, in "Republicans Have No Good Reason Not To Impeach Donald Trump":

Impeaching Trump would not go down well with many Republican voters—though it would win them many new fans in the centrist media, probably—but if they did so, Republicans would still have two solid years of complete control of the government, only now with a properly conservative and pliant president, in Mike Pence, who will obviously sign anything Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell place on his desk. Even if a conservative grassroots backlash leads to Republican members of Congress losing their seats in 2018, most of them will be replaced with equally conservative Republicans, who will then have another two years to continue to implement the full conservative agenda.


As soon as Donald Trump picked Pence, and not some more Trumpian figure, like Don King or his own daughter, he practically made this decision for them. It would be crazy not to impeach him.

And this is true, that Mike Pence would be much more cromulent to many Republicans, and would sign bills from Congress without squawking, would make obvious appointments to the Cabinet and courts, would share their ideological agenda in a way that the obviously apolitical Trump doesn't, and would definitely be a known quantity and not a loose cannon.

And yet... why settle for Pence?

Because, you know, one of the problems with taking a job in the Trump Administration, any job that's anywhere near the top, is that the corruption and possible scandal is going to be rampant.  No, that's not even close: it's going to be a howling void of corruption and scandal, a black hole with the power to spaghettify (and that's a real term) anything dipping even a toe past Trump's event horizon.  Merely taking a meeting with the man--and taking meetings is a substantial part of a Presidency--raises the threat that one will become a part of "What was said on that occasion?" or "Who else was in attendance?" or "And when did you become aware of?"

It is completely conceivable that a Trumpian scandal could engulf everybody in proximity who doesn't resign before they get sucked in and mauled.  It might just be a matter of waiting until the Vice-President, for instance, is given a choice between his own impeachment and being forced to resign (perhaps with a shred of honor and integrity still clinging like a fig leaf in a Renaissance painting of Adam and Eve, or perhaps in the dead of night with a note slipped under the door and no forwarding address).

Bringing us to the part where I remind everyone of both the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and of Title 3, Chapter 1, section 19 of the U.S. Code (commonly known as the Presidential Succession Act of 1947), wherein the Speaker of the House becomes acting President in the case of vacancies in the offices of the President and Vice-President, and/or assumes the Vice-Presidency (and subsequently the Presidency) if the holders of those offices fall like dominoes.

You know.  This is how Gerald "Impeachment Is What We Say It Is" Ford became Vice-President in 1973 when Spiro Agnew needed to free up his schedule for court appearances, and ascended to the Presidency less than a year later when Richard Nixon slithered out of the White House.  Sure, Gerald Ford lost the office when he actually had to run for it--but even after pardoning Nixon and having his inability to handle stairs become the defining initiative of his Presidency, he didn't lose by that wide a margin in either the popular vote or the Electoral College, and this was back when electoral districts were more competitive and kids and black people could still vote in most states.

I guess the question to ask yourself when pondering this Machiavellian angle on the subject is whether you think Speaker Paul Ryan has ever shown any interest whatsoever, at all, at any time in the past, in holding Executive Office.

Well.  We'll see how this goes.  It's definitely going to be an interesting ___ [days | months | years] (circle one).

1 I feel like it's obligatory to address the question of whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the President of the United States, or whether engaging in the ordinary course of business during one's Presidency violates the Clause, especially when one's course of business is an international real estate, hotel, and licensing business.  There appears to be a wide consensus that the Clause applies to the President, and that these activities violate the Clause, and that this is why there has been (until now) a long tradition of Presidents divesting themselves of assets or placing them into a blind trust (something the President-Elect announced this week, through a very soporific attorney, he won't be doing because not-really-reasons).  There are, however, a (smaller, I think) number of lawyers and scholars who have advanced arguments that the President-Elect won't be violating the Clause when he enters office because it doesn't apply to Presidents and/or his earnings aren't emoluments and/or other legit-sounding legal and historical reasons that I'm probably not prepared to argue for or against.

None of this matters, is the thing.

The real point is that if anyone in the House of Representatives wants to argue either side of the case, they have the ammunition to do so.  And if the House impeaches, and Trump's attorneys want to argue in their defense what some expert has said about the Clause, they can do so, and the Senate can decide for themselves if that's compelling, and whichever way they go, they can point to something more objective than partisan fury.

It's interesting, and if you want to go back and forth over cocktails, great.  I guess I mostly just would say that until it's actually being heard in Congress, it remains something reasonable minds can differ over, is all.


Men and women of principle

>> Thursday, December 08, 2016

In short, many religious Christians of a traditionalist bent believed that liberals not only reduce their deeply held beliefs to bigotry, but want to run them out of their jobs, close down their stores and undermine their institutions. When I first posted about this on Facebook, I wrote that I hope liberals really enjoyed running Brendan Eich out of his job and closing down the Sweet Cakes bakery, because it cost them the Supreme Court. I’ll add now that I hope Verrilli enjoyed putting the fear of government into the God-fearing because it cost his party the election.
The Washington Post, December 7th, 2016.

One naturally wonders what to do with these kinds of articles and arguments.

Firstly, because it's probably fair to say that Evangelical Christians are probably right that a fair number of us would like to see their beliefs relegated to the same dustbin that holds wife-burnings and human sacrifices.  I would like to be kinder and more tolerant about this, but I give up: I think if you're content to have your religion and let me have my lack of it, we can live together just fine, but if you want your belief in a sky fairy and a literal take on ancient legends to govern daily life and oppress consenting adults from having consenting adult relationships, or regulate adults' reproductive choices, for examples, we don't have much room to live together after all.  One of us has to give in about gay marriage and/or access to contraception, and I don't intend to.

This is why I've gotten tired of people insisting that there are "political" divisions that people "just need to get over" or "seek compromise" on.  You and I disagree on a tax rate, that's political.  You and I disagree on whether gay people are entitled to the full panoply of civil rights, that's something else.  And it's not a "compromise" for us to decide that gay people have some human rights but not others: that's just a "lite" version of deciding they're not entitled to be treated as fully human.

We went through this and are still going through this with African-Americans.  Either black folks and white folks have the same basic rights or they don't, and the white folks who spent the Reconstruction era saying that the former slaves ought to be satisfied with being former slaves without insisting on being able to vote and hold office, demand equal pay, and use the same public transit facilities were missing the point.

It may be that there will be a backlash and terrible bill to be paid for the Obergefell decision, but I'm not about to feel bad about that.  If a certain kind of Christian considers gay marriage an assault on their values, well maybe it is and if so it ought to be.

Which also brings us, the long way around back and through the woods, to the secondly.  (I certainly wouldn't begin a section "firstly" if I didn't have a "secondly."  Well.  Not on purpose, anyway.)

Secondly, it's hard to know what to make (if anything) of observations like Bernstein's when the evangelical voters he is writing about go out of their way to make it so damned hard to take their values seriously by voting for somebody who conspicuously flaunts and violates them.

The Mormons in Utah who voted for McMullin, I can respect where they were coming from and what they did; if it was a futile gesture, it was nevertheless a touchingly honest one.  I don't share their values, mostly, and I can't say I care for their candidate.  But they didn't reject Hillary Clinton in favor of a man who doesn't represent a single value the Church of Latter-Day Saints has ever laid claim to.  The evangelicals who voted for Trump, on the other hand....

The evangelicals who voted for Trump: we know they value something, whatever it is.  But that whatever seems to take precedence over, say, the seven venal sins, all of which seem to be embodied by Trump.  He's a braggart who can't open his mouth (or Twitter app) without boasting.  There's pride.  He boasts about pussy grabbing and makes lewd comments about his own daughter and goes through wives the way some people lease cars.  Lust, I think?  His lifestyle reeks of greed and gluttony (and more pride).  He's notorious for not working hard to prepare for things like the debates and the office he's the presumptive winner of, talked about how great it was to have an actual veteran give him an unearned Purple Heart because that was the easy way to get something he always wanted, and he's only where he is because of his dad's money.  Let's group these under laziness.  He has a short temper and is easily riled--there's anger.  Do you suppose his being upset about not getting an Emmy counts as envy?

Admittedly, the Seven Deadlies are very Catholic.  But one wonders at how Trump is granted forgiveness by so many self-pronounced Christians when he's undeniably done so many of the things these same people flayed the Clintons for.  Marital infidelities, corrupt self-dealing, public lying?  Sounds like Donald Trump.

Or--and I'm not a Christian, maybe I was misinformed--but I was given the distinct impression evangelicals put a high priority on family values and living a Christlike life.  It has been a long while since I perused the New Testament, but I fail to recall the passages where Jesus went around walking into women's dressing rooms at the beauty pageants he hosted, sexually harassed girls and women, cheated people out of their hard-earned money by promising to teach them at a fake "university," mocked the disabled and the families of dead soldiers, bullied people, and ran his mouth with such a pathological indifference to facts or consistency that calling it "lying" seems somehow inadequate and itself misleading.

I do seem to recall Jesus being something of a religious scholar: had the Bible as we now know it existed, I sincerely doubt he would have referred to something as "Two Corinthians."

The nearest resemblance to what passes for a Christian I can find in Donald Trump is a reference to the now-popular "Prosperity Gospel" that equates worldly success (something I vaguely recall Jesus as being disdainful towards in the actual Gospels) with virtue.  Trump, whatever his actual financial holdings, lives in a gilded world and has stumbled into the office of President of the United States; if these are signs that he has pleased God and therefore been rewarded... well, I have been told The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and I admit to being frankly baffled.  Indeed, if acting like a thoroughly godless, secular lout is the way to pleasing God, let me point out to the Divine Creator of the Universe that I don't even believe in Him, that I curse like a sailor and have questionable morals, and that my very profession is associated with prostitution and held in slightly less regard; surely I am even more pleasing, then, and deserve a little something something for my efforts?  Am overdue, even, for my beautiful reward?

It is, anyway, hard to look at someone who (a) claims they're an evangelical Christian and (b) voted for a lying, fraudulent, money-grubbing pervert, and decide that their actions and values are in alignment.  Indeed, one is inclined at this point to "reduce their deeply held beliefs to bigotry": if you are more distressed that two consenting adults of the same sex wish to spend their lives together with the full benefits accorded by a secular state than you are by the fact that you just voted for a man who resembles the money-lenders and hypocrites who appeared as villains and cautionary examples in Biblical tales more than he resembles your Savior, I don't see how it's surprising or even unfair for me to conclude that your homophobia is more important than any other values you pretend to have.  I'm not even saying that you necessarily believe Donald Trump is a good or godly man; only that you care about that less than you care about the squickiness you feel about grown men holding hands, kissing, or being allowed to participate in medical decisions on behalf of their partners.

Let me just say in closing that I can imagine some American pundit of a hundred-and-sixty-years ago gloating that he hoped John Frémont enjoyed threatening Southerners with the prospect of losing the balance of Free and Slave states in Congress and scaring hard-working property owners with the prospect of being unable to recover personal property that happened to abscond him-or-herself across the Mason-Dixon Line and onto Free Soil.  No doubt being staunchly abolitionist cost the Republicans of 1856 the White House, and nominating a firebrand like Frémont who would campaign under an offensive and divisive slogan like "Free Soil, Free Men, and Frémont!" was obviously a mistake; I imagine our pundit writing in the 19th Century's equivalent to Politico that if the Republicans wanted to have any hope whatsoever of winning future elections and to exist as a viable political party, they would need to abandon divisive rhetoric, reach out to those alienated by the Republican Party's "identity politics" and those rejecting the "political correctness" that reduced their "deeply-held values" to bigotry.  And by the metric of victory--surely the only thing that counts, right?--this pundit would be absolutely correct: the divisive, partisan, identity politics of the Republican Party cost them a Presidential election, practically handed the White House to James Buchanan, and the Republicans had no right to be upset about the results when it was clearly their own damned fault for picking a divisive and polarizing candidate like John C. Frémont as their standard-bearer instead of somebody willing to compromise on the issues that really mattered to the average American voter.  Remember the great bipartisan compromises like the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854?  That's the kind of middle-of-the-road, middle American cooperation this country needs to be great again.

Yeah?  Well?  I guess I have an appropriately Yuletide season response to that kind of thinking, then or now.


No Real American would...

>> Tuesday, November 29, 2016

It has been observed, of course, that this would be all kinds of unconstitutional.  Not that the Great Orange Creature has read the Constitution since he was a schoolboy, not that he much cares what is in it, not that he has any more interest in the founding document than he does in the daily operations of the office he is now the heir presumptive to.

Photo ©NBC via Rob Beschizza.
But what is--perhaps--getting less noticed is that the Orange Man is the type of demagogue who would say--or tweet--the same thing even if he did know better.  He doesn't seem to much care what he himself says, for one thing; he does care what others say, when they are being disrespectful, when they are puncturing his hot air balloon ego.  So there's that.  But, thing is, even if he did care, he'd go on and Tweet things like that anyway, because it's chum for his frenzied base.  It's the kind of thing a certain kind of political beast would toss over the side of the boat just to set the dumb fish thrashing and chewing everything and nothing--seawater, empty air, a mouthful of blood and reeking fishguts, whatever.

For the sort of person who ardently supported the Bankruptcy King (I don't mean those who merely aided and abetted, voting for racism and misogyny and religious bigotry and bullying for "reasons"; these people have their own accounting to do, eventually, especially if there is a God and He's just), the kind of American who doesn't say the Pledge, who kneels during the National Anthem, who burns a flag in protest, is already suspect.  You should keep this in mind when reading the above tweet and all the other tweets like it and hear him say similar things.  The ardent supporter of Mr. Pussygrabber most likely, I think, takes it on some deep lizard level as already given that a protester or critic isn't really a citizen in the first place, and depriving her or him of citizenship would really be more a formality than anything else.  Real Americans don't do such things; Real Americans show a little respect; Real Americans love this country or ought to leave it, and to "love" implicitly means that it's your country, right or wrong, and you don't say even a word against it.

In Real America, patriotism is a facile thing, the blind devotion of the dog that licks the boots that kick him.

I do not really believe that DJT particularly cares about free speech or the flag, you know.  I strongly suspect he cares about being adored, and that he knows who his audience is.  Knows that if he says the things his core supporters believe in their deepest hearts, they will shout and chant and shake their fists.  This doesn't make him less dangerous, it should be said; it may well make him more dangerous.  You wonder what the Great Prevaricator might do if he lies his way into a corner; do consider that he is already walking back many of the impossible promises he made: the wall is becoming a fence, the Muslim registry may be little more than a reinstatement of the Bush-era NSEERS program for tracking foreign visitors, he may not be as interested in repealing the Affordable Care Act as previously advertised, his "swamp-draining" appears to involve offering appointments to a "Who's-Who" of washed-out Washington insiders like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani.  At some point, it's conceivable that his Truest Believers will start removing their "Make America Great" redcaps to rub their foreheads in confusion, asking "What gives?" as they notice that the man who tells it like it is isn't quite how he tells it.  And when that happens, does he shrug and admit there is nothing behind the curtain, that Oz The Great and Terrible is really just a two-bit real estate grifter from Queens whose daddy was rich enough to keep him from having to make a start in a boiler room with all the other jive turkeys, or does he start desperately trying to deliver?

I worry it will be Choice B.  And it may well be that whatever he does to deliver something so that he can hear the cheering over the jeering again will be terribly naughty and astonishingly illegal, but of course we have a country that is built upon deliberative processes--this was a feature in the original design, a way to keep a new nation from getting itself into trouble through hastiness and over-zealousness, but a feature that has become a chronic bug, regularly crashing the system; and so the people who become the chosen victims to be made examples of may get acquitted, or freed, or reinstated, or may receive reparations eventually (or their heirs might), but in the meantime their cases wind through the courts, or Presidential actions are brought before subcommittees and then committees and then one of the houses and then before the full Congress, or decades of shame pass until some future leader issues an apology or is authorized by the legislature to cut a check.

There's that.  Oh, and there's also the way Orange Crush's tweets and pronouncements galvanize the Real Americans.  Hate crimes are up, and we'll acknowledge that Deej is tepidly against them and he'll quietly ask his supporters to stop, "If it helps."  Unsurprisingly, he puts much less effort into stopping anyone than he did into winding them up in the first place; less a matter of sincerity than it is simply the fact that winding somebody up until they are frothing and shouting and shaking their fists in the air like they're at a pretty fantastic heavy metal concert is a lot less fun than telling people to pipe down; people like feeling excited and part of a throng, they like being part of the movement (it is part of being social creatures), telling them to cut it out suggests to people they're doing something wrong, that they might even need to feel some nebulous shame, which is not a pleasant feeling, much less the unbridled joy of cheering and chanting along with a roaring murmur of cheerers and chanters.

If you're not a citizen, if you ought to be locked up, then being approached by some nearly-violent, instigated wacko to be yelled at and perhaps even assaulted is really the least you could expect, yeah?  You have no rights, so you have no recourse; you shouldn't even complain, really, really you should be grateful that all you got was spat on and your silly little sign torn out of your hands and your ear clouted from behind, instead of going to a camp or prison, or being deported, or being whatever else a disloyal, traitorous, un-American, sad bitch ought to receive.  Being shamed or injured is less than you deserve, you don't even belong here.

That OJ hasn't come right out and said that, well, there's his moral cover he can pull over himself to keep himself warm and secure in his suite in Trump Tower, Man of the People that he is.  He didn't say the protesters weren't citizens, only that they shouldn't be.  And he went on CBS and he asked them to stop, if it would help, which it didn't, but he tried.  And then at three in the morning, when most of the east coast of his country is asleep, and he is lying awake thinking of the adoring mobs with their signs and their hats, he reaches for his phone and he will tweet another idle incitement, not because he means it, but because it's good to be loved.


Comprehension test

>> Monday, November 14, 2016

So these Trump voters had a comprehension problem. But we were just as bad. We couldn't understand what they were saying to us. We refused to accept every signal about whom they hated, and how much. Why? Because Trump's voters were speaking a language that has been taboo in America for decades, if not forever.
Rolling Stone, November 10, 2016.

This bullshit is already getting tired.  Hey, I like Matt Taibbi, and I don't blame him for trying to spin a DT victory that blindsided him as much as anybody else even though he was on the trail covering the race and probably feels like he should have called it better.

But the problem here isn't that nobody was listening to the DT supporters.  Believe me, lots and lots of us were listening to DT supporters.  We were listening to DT supporters who chanted "Lock her up!" and "Trump that bitch!"  We were even listening when the less vitriolic supporters were talking about how DT's ideas--which often consisted of incoherent word salads--made sense.

We heard.  We heard and we couldn't believe our ears.

One of the major reasons a lot of us were blindsided by DT's win, honestly, is that we gave a lot of our fellow citizens too much credit.  I know: look at me here, intellectual elitist, being all condescending about my fellow Americans, and this is how I'm part of the problem.  Yeah, sure--go back to Taibbi's Rolling Stone postmortem whine, then; have fun.

If you're still here and want to talk seriously: yes, a lot of us dumb, naive liberals honestly believed that Trump's support peaked around one third of the one quarter of Americans who show up to vote in the Republican primaries.  We thought he had a ceiling that was much lower than it was, because frankly we thought other Republicans were smart enough and moral enough to be repelled by his rhetoric--which, to be fair, people like Mitt Romney deserve a lot of credit for standing up and trying to be heard.  (Let me just digress to give props to members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, of all people: I'm not a big fan, but looking at the quarter of the population of Utah who weren't willing to vote for Clinton but cast their protest vote for Evan McMullin instead of deciding racist demagoguery wasn't a big deal--respect.)

We thought that being an incompetent bigot would be a deal-breaker, even for people who loathed Hillary Clinton.  We thought, "Black President, Obergefell, Female Presidential Candidate--we're not there, but we've rounded the bend!"  And that was a mistake, absolutely: we were wrong.  Something around a quarter to a third of the voting population isn't racist in the showing-up-to-Klan-rallies sense, but they're what you might call racist enablers or endorsers: they don't care enough about how people of color are treated in this world to prioritize them over... whatever, gods only know; irrational hatred of Clinton, some kind of not-actually-factually-based ideas about global economics or national security, whatever.

The remaining DT supporters, the ones who actually got off on him getting away with language that everybody else in America regards as toxic at the very least?  Well, yeah, "Basket of Deplorables" may not have been the most politically felicitous phrasing and it pissed a lot of people off, but it's arguably a pretty accurate and maybe even euphemistic description of people who believe Muslims are radicalized terrorists, blacks are lazy welfare cheats who only vote for Democrats because they get free stuff for doing so, Mexicans are job-stealing murderers and rapists, America gives away more money to countries full of brown people than it spends on defending its borders, global warming is a conspiracy, and all the other crap I'm overlooking right now.

Not speaking their language?  How about not living in the same consensual reality?  The problem isn't that Americans don't know how to talk about class, the problem is that factual disagreements have replaced political ones.  A bit hard to have a policy discussion about the President's authorization of assassination-by-flying-robot when the other side is maundering about how said President is actually some kind of Kenyan Muslim sleeper agent trying to oh goddammit I don't even know what the fucking thread is here--I have a part time hobby of collecting absurd conspiracy theories and in all the years I've been doing that, never in my life until Barack Obama ran for President did I hear any frothing nutter spouting off about the damn Kenyan Muslims.  Bilderbergs, Freemasons, Illuminati, Jewish bankers, Communists, I've heard everyone named and blamed for everything from the French Revolution to the moon landing, and now, suddenly, people are terrified of the Machiavellian machinations of the Kenyans?  I can't even--

(Also, n.b. in the United States, Mr. Taibbi, and I feel like you know this: race is a historic proxy for class that we have been talking about for more than two centuries, admittedly poorly and haltingly and to less effect than might be hoped for; to the extent class exists separately from race in America, we of course have been talking about it, again poorly and haltingly and to less effect than might be hoped for, for maybe just a bit more than a hundred years; and also please n.b. that, to the extent we talk about class poorly and haltingly in America, that has a lot to do with the history of shooting people over it--it's a bit disingenuous to imply that Americans don't talk about class because liberal types have become isolated from the Great Working Masses when the stronger case is that we don't talk about class in America because people who talk earnestly about class in America get killed by strikebreakers and assassins.  As I write this, I'm less than a mile from a bridge named after a Sheriff whose claim to fame is getting killed while murdering strikers from the Loray Mill.  That kind of puts a sock in it.  Martin Luther King talked about class, look where it got him.  And the Republicans that DT supporters have a history of going for revere Ronald Reagan, by the way, who didn't actually murder the air traffic controllers, because they were white and it was no longer the 1930s, he just fired them and made them unemployable.  Sort of a symbolic murder, if you think about what that did to their families.  Meanwhile?  Meanwhile pointy headed college intellectuals talk about this shit and class and gender and race and intersectionality all the fucking time, it's just that the conservatives who gave socialism a poison name did the same thing to having an education while they were at it.)

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Well, you don't say?  Acted like it, too, didn't they?  Taibbi quotes, in a way that manages to come off as weirdly approving, a DT supporter from Pennsylvania:

"When [Trump] talks, I actually understand what he's saying," a young Pennsylvanian named Trent Gower told me at a Trump event a month ago. "But, like, when fricking Hillary Clinton talks, it just sounds like a bunch of bullshit."

We're to respect that?  I'm sorry, policy is hard.  The real world is complicated.  The fact is those we send to Washington to represent us in the legislative and executive branches have to make really complicated decisions based on data sets that often manage to be at once paradoxically overwhelming and insufficient.  In the context of defense policy, that incomplete and too-comprehensive mess gets the wonderfully apt label "The Fog of War" and it's often the same thing in economic policy or agrarian policy or energy policy--all of which all too frequently become fused, e.g. when we start talking about corn subsidies, an unholy and godawful cluster fuck of agriculture, energy, economy, and national defense.

Oh, yes, we've insufficiently educated our voters in a country where public education has quietly transitioned from something everybody once agreed was necessary to produce informed voters to a budgetary bargaining chip whose value is now measured in some large part by how many competent laborers it can produce for the American workforce; it's no longer as important to be able to find the Middle East on a map or to know who lost the American Civil War as it is to have "suitable job skills for entering the competitive marketplace of the 21st Century," gag, choke.  Perhaps we need some great communicator who can cut the tangled complexities of the modern world into bits that are easier to process.

But, funny thing, educated and informed people who listened to DT thought he was an idiot.  It's not that we didn't hear what he was saying: we heard, and its informational content was negative.  Whether it was thinking "Two Corinthians" was a book in the Bible and not the setup to a religious joke ("Two Corinthians walk into a bar, and the first one...") or clearly not knowing what the nuclear triad is, or not knowing what is in the Constitution at all, or his uninformed boasting about being smarter than American generals, or, or, or whatever--I don't know that there has been a more fundamentally ignorant Presidential candidate in our history; Andrew Jackson, who was mocked as a rube, and Harry Truman, who was mocked as a rube--they were better educated men than DT.

Which isn't to say that poor Gower is wholly wrong about Hillary Clinton and bullshit, mind you: look, I watched and listened to the debates, and there were undeniably times that Clinton was bullshitting.  Mostly in predictable and routine ways.  Yeah, she pivoted on questions she didn't like; yeah, she ducked issues she thought she was politically vulnerable on.  What she didn't do?  What she didn't do was sound like she didn't understand the questions she tried (often successfully) to avoid answering.  She didn't sound pathetically uninformed, incompetent, out of her depth, clueless, a hopeless idiot, where'd I put my thesaurus?

I can get being a little turned off by that, what I can't get is someone actually saying, "When Trump talks, I understand what he's saying."  Because there's nothing to understand--I kind of wish Taibbi hadn't named names with this guy, because for several years now, I've tried to be kind here towards people who aren't famous; in the early days of this blog, I sometimes punched down and I shouldn't have, but it's so hard, wanting to reach through the screen and shake Mr. Gower and shout, "Donald Trump makes noise but he doesn't say anything, you poor sack, and if you think he's saying something and you think he's making sense, it's because you have no fucking clue, you poor bastard!"  A DT debate answer is an exercise in pareidolia; fucking ELIZA would have given Clinton a tougher fight at the debates.  If you understand what Donald Trump is saying, you, sir, are as big an idiot as he is.

Gods only know: I know that liberals wrongly mocked George W. Bush's intellect.  Wrongly, because I really don't think--and I said this when the man was in office--that even a Legacy coasts through Yale and Harvard; I think Bush was incurious and trusting, was insufficiently skeptical of the people he surrounded himself and didn't ask the kinds of tough analytical questions Obama seems to.  In a lot of unfortunate ways, G.W. Bush was probably a bit like another Texan President, LBJ, who possessed a lot of savvy but allowed himself to be intellectually intimidated by people who weren't really any smarter than he was, they just carried off the pretense of being intellectuals tragically well.

But Bush, Bush could answer a damn question; oh, sure, he might mangle the grammar.  He didn't have the most orderly mind.  But you could tell where he was trying to go with his thought.  There was undeniable comedy in the way the thought got lost in the brush, sometimes, but you knew where it came from and you could see where it was supposed to come out, and if he accidentally spliced in a Pete Townshend lyric, say, well, that was worth a good laugh.  But DT?  He does not give great answers.  He does not give the best answers, the very best.  People do talk about his answers, but they are not saying nice things, the best things, the very best things, great things, about his answers.

Admittedly, it appears we were wrong that Clinton's basic competence would shine through and persuade even if she sometimes shoveled bullshit in what we took to be traditional, conventional, commonly and historically accepted ways.  "Naturally, she's a bit unsatisfactory about speaking fees and a bit dodgy on taxes, but who hasn't been since we started televising these things in 1960?  Hate the game, not the player, right?  We're comparing someone who has spent her life preparing for this job to someone who apparently doesn't know what he's auditioning for."  We said, and assumed, and we were wrong, undeniably we were wrong.

But I'm not sure we should be blamed for that.  The sin was in giving people what turned out to be too much credit: I can see what's going on here, surely everyone does.  I wouldn't vote for a racist over a competent non-racist, wouldn't you?  Okay, so there's a whiff of corruption in the whole speaking fees department and the e-mail server thing probably wasn't criminal but wasn't a hundred percent kosher, either, but this guy brags about not paying taxes for nearly twenty years because he lost a billion dollars that wasn't even his money, plus he's being sued for fraud and have you looked at his trail of bankruptcies?  To vote for this guy, you have to be okay with misogyny and racism, if not actually a misogynist and racist; you have to favor exotic and extraordinary displays of corruption and criminal behavior over the merely banal and typical; you have to be charmed by obvious ignorance and incompetence and somehow actually offended by someone who can demonstrate a broad grasp of myriad technical issues.

It's one thing to side with laugh with the bully and pick on the nerdy kid who didn't just do all last night's homework but actually spent the rest of his evening reading books that weren't even assigned.  Oh, hell: no it isn't, either.  Kids are little assholes when they do this kind of thing, and we adults tend to yell at them when we find out they're doing it.  What I meant, really, was that we sort of expect kids to do that kind of crap and take it accordingly.  And we expect those kids to grow out of it sometime around their late teens, when they start going to college or entering the armed forces or getting jobs or whatever it is they're going to do with themselves.  There's a not unreasonable expectation that adults are supposed to be impressed with experts at some level, and that these experts in whatever field they're found in will rise to the top of it.  I know, doesn't actually work out that way in real life all the time, and maybe less than you think or hope; but it's not unreasonable to think that in the adult world, the bully will be ostracized and the nerd will receive some kind of respect.

Guess not.

And really, what's the answer if Taibbi's right (he isn't)?  Pandering to racists?  Dumbing down the discourse even further?  Telling the same lies DT tells, if you can even call some of the random catchphrases he pops out lies?  (Does a statement have to have a meaning before it can be evaluated for truth or falsity?)  Saying that this is entirely, or even largely, a breakdown in communications is to imply that there's some validity to voting for DT, and is suggesting that the problem is that the complaints weren't heard or weren't understood, as opposed to heard, understood, and rejected.

Maybe we didn't lose because we didn't listen.  Maybe we lost because America is simply a worse place than we thought it was.


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