Trump Maladministration

I see that the comment link isn’t working, and also links to archived things don’t work. I’ll get back on the phone to tech support tomorrow.

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This Is It

Trump Maladministration

If you are reading this, we’ve made it to the new server. I feel as if I’ve dragged every byte myself, over the Alps. Whew!

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The Mahablog is being migrated this week to a different server, which will allow me to take advantage of a less expensive hosting plan. But it may take them all week, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to keep blogging while files are being migrated. So if I’m not updating this week, that’s why. In the meantime, I may update the Rethinking Religion blog (often boring stuff, though) and you can find me on Facebook.

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Jonathan Chait and the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis

Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, Republican Party, Trump Maladministration

I’ve tried to avoid replaying the issues of the election, but it interested me that Jonathan Chait, possibly unwittingly, recently endorsed the Susan Sarandon Hypothesis. Chait wrote,

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

Chait gets things wrong sometime. He may be wrong this time. But he might not be wrong. We’ll see.

The Sarandon Hypothesis is from 2016. I confess I didn’t pay much attention to Sarandon, but as I understand it, she argued that it might be better in the long run if Trump beat Clinton, because Trump would be such an awful president he would destroy the Right and bring on the progressive revolution. A Clinton presidency, on the other hand, would have simply continued the slow death of progressivism in the U.S.

Trump is proving to be such a disaster there might not be anything left of the United States to salvage. But so far, his administration has not helped the Republican Party one bit.

For as unpopular as the president has become, Trump’s own party has been hit even harder when it comes to poll results. Republican support has dropped significantly over the past few weeks, with Americans now disapproving of Republicans 70 percent to 21 percent — a 14 point negative swing from two weeks ago.

The HuffPost aggregator has the Republican Party at 37 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable. Democrats aren’t doing much better, however. They’re at favorable 40 percent, unfavorable 50 percent. But you know who’s even less popular? Congress.

So we’re a long way away from seeing whether the Sarandon Hypothesis holds water. The strongest factor working against it, IMO, is the Democratic Party, which still seems reluctant to own up to what it got wrong last year. But we’ll see.

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How About Those Syrians?

Trump Maladministration

I confess, I wonder if each president leaves a note for his successor in the Resolute Desk — “If your agenda fails, and your poll numbers are sinking, start a war with some country nobody cares about.” We’ll see if it works this time.

We’re hearing that Trump was so shocked at the hideous deaths of Syrian babies that he ordered air strikes. These are the same Syrian babies who must be blocked from entering the U.S. because they might be terrorists, so I’m not sure who he’s trying to kid.

Frank Bruni :

There’s justification for it, absolutely. President Obama had advisers who wished he’d done something similar, and there were Democrats aplenty — Hillary Clinton apparently among them — who found his restraint when it came to Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad to be infuriating, a surrender of America’s role and moral authority in the world.

But Trump’s military action makes little sense in the context of most of what he said in the years before he was elected and much of what he has done as president so far. Let me get this straight: Obama wasn’t supposed to draw or be drawn across a red line, not even when the Assad regime used chemical weapons, but when the regime did that on Trump’s watch, it crossed “many, many lines,” in his words, and compelled an American response?

That’s a “dizzying turnabout,” as Blake Hounshell wrote in Politico, under the headline “Trump’s Syria Whiplash.” And I can’t square Trump’s statements over the last two days that the United States can’t stand by idly in the face of such grotesque suffering with his determination to bar those who suffer from being accepted as refugees into America. The babies prompt outrage and heartache when they’re writhing in Syria, but God forbid they come here.

Some guy at Politico:

It’s a dizzying turnabout for a man who complained endlessly during the presidential campaign about the trillions the United States had wasted on wars in the Middle East—and who urged his predecessor in 2013 not to launch “stupid” airstrikes to punish Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.  …

… Only last Thursday, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was saying, “Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out,” and Tillerson, borrowing language from Russian diplomats, was announcing, “the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Months ago, Trump was insisting that the focus of U.S. policy should be defeating ISIS, rather than ousting Assad. “You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton,” he told Reuters in an interview. “You’re not fighting Syria anymore, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk,” he said. That was October. What happens next?

Who knows? I think he does what he feels like doing at the moment.

Charles Pierce :

As policy, beyond snapping back at Assad for the war crime he committed earlier this week, I don’t see how this makes much of any sense. We learned a new word Thursday night—”deconfliction”—which is fairly defined as, “Blow shit up without killing any Russians because that could be a problem.” I love the new jargon that comes along every time we decide to make war in a place. So it’s unlikely that we will be involved in a shooting war with Russia, which is a good thing.

By the way, how long has it been since anybody asked the so-called president about his secret plan to eliminate ISIS? This might be a good time to roll that out.

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Senate Republicans Clear the Nuclear Option

Trump Maladministration

Two big news items already this morning. One, “House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will temporarily step aside from an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including interactions between Moscow and the Trump campaign,” Politico says.

But don’t get excited: “The Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation will be taken over by Reps. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.).” Meh.

The other items is that the Democrats blocked Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court from advancing in the Senate under the old rules. Senate Republicans have already voted to pull the plug on Senate filibuster rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority vote.

Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed tomorrow with 52 Republican votes, plus the votes of three Democrats — Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Donnelly (IN). Remember those names. I believe all three of them are up for re-election in 2018.

There is considerable hand-wringing going on about how awful it is that Democrats are doing this awful thing. The more I hear about Gorsuch, however, the more I think he will be a disaster. There’s no point waiting for a worse crisis to blow up the Senate; he’s bad enough.

At the NY Times, Steven Waldman makes a good argument that we might all be better off without the filibuster, or at least what the filibuster has become.

In truth, eliminating the filibuster would be a minor change compared with the problem that such a move would solve: the recent rise of a system based on supermajority rule rather than majority rule.

Of course, the modern filibuster doesn’t require senators to give speeches through the night. It’s all very abstract; in the case of nonspending bills, the minority party simply lets it be known that it has enough votes to block the legislation.

In effect, the minority party now gets to decide when a bill should require 60 votes instead of 51.

The switch to supermajority rule happened without a constitutional amendment, without a national debate, without its even becoming a major issue in a presidential campaign. Because it happened gradually, we didn’t fully appreciate: The 788 filibusters since 2007 — those were the “nuclear” moments. …

… Under the filibuster rules in place at the time of the New Deal, Republicans could have blocked the Security Exchange Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to the journalist Charles Peters’s new book, “We Do Our Part.”

And if the Senate had been operating under majority rule during the Obama and Bush administrations, the following bills would have gained Senate approval: the Toomey-Manchin background check bill for guns; the provision allowing people to have a “public option” for health care on the Obamacare exchanges; comprehensive immigration reform; an increase in the minimum wage; and the bipartisan campaign finance bill, called the Disclose Act.

The Democrats, Waldman argues, have been entirely too nice. They should have ended the filibuster years ago, when they had the chance.

To clarify, Republicans today only killed the filibuster as it relates to Supreme Court nominees. But Waldman argues that the whole thing should be done away with. And let the chips fall.

I’m sure there are good arguments for the other side, but “keep your powder dry” isn’t one of them. At Vox, Dylan Matthews argues that maybe Democrats should allow Gorsuch to be approved so that they might be able to stop the next right-wing judge from being appointed. But I don’t see the sense of that. Republicans would just pull the trigger on the filibuster next time. What’s the point?

Our only real hope of the complete takeover of SCOTUS is to hope the Dems take back the Senate in 2018 and that no other justice dies or resigns before then. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what the Dems do now. Republicans will ram through their judges any way they can.

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First Ailes, Now O’Reilly? Maybe.

News Media

In his most recent column, Michael Gerson slams Fox News.

If the accusations of dozens of women over two decades are correct — and it is hard to dismiss the women, as the accused have done, as unbalanced, dishonest or disgruntled — then Fox News is the focus of hypocrisy in the modern world. While preaching traditional values, it has operated, according to former Fox anchor Andrea Tantaros, “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

A recent New York Times story detailing $13 million in payouts to women accusing O’Reilly of harassment depicts a corporate atmosphere of predation and enablement. Stories on Ailes present a similar (and even worse) picture of women treated as sex objects and employment benefits.

Gerson’s column could almost have been written by a leftie feminist, except for one slightly paternalistic line, “Can a news organization deal adequately with women’s issues when you would never allow your own daughter to work there?” But I forgive Gerson, because he recognizes the essential problem.

The ethos of a newspaper, cable network or website influences the final product. At The Post — reflecting its investigative self-image — the new motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” At Fox, this ethos has involved, according to the New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot, “the fetishization of hot female news presenters.” And this, it seems, has doubled as a kind of conveyor belt for bright new faces. Can it really be a coincidence that feminism is often dismissed on Fox News as so much political correctness?

Of course it’s not a coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that more than 30 advertisers recently withdrew their advertising dollars from O’Reilly’s show.

Erik Wemple of WaPo points out that O’Reilly is known for dismissing his detractors with insightful insults, such as “pinhead” and “far-left loon,” but he’s been mostly silent lately. Now that Ailes is out, will Fox News continue to shell out millions of dollars to keep its big star online?

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Bannon Out at NSC

Trump Maladministration

The big news this morning is that Steve Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council.

An 4 April presidential memorandum took Bannon, the former Breitbart News executive and chief White House link to the nationalist rightwing, off the US’s main body for foreign policy and national security decision-making. It also restores the traditional roles of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence onto the NSC.

While the revamp is likely to be seen as a victory for Trump’s second national security adviser, army lieutenant general HR McMaster, the substantive impact of the shakeup remains to be seen. A parallel security structure in the Eisenhower executive office building, known as the Strategic Initiatives Group, reports to Bannon, whose closeness to Trump is a signal-marker of influence in this administration.

As much as I’d like to think that maybe Bannon’s influence in the White House is on the wane — if that even matters — it may be too soon to assume that.

There’s also this:

A White House official said that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.

Sounds like a Trumped-up excuse to me. Flynn was fired on February 13. This excuse also suggests that Trump was suspicious of Flynn even as he appointed him, which I doubt.

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Obey the Disobedience!

big picture stuff

MIT is now accepting nominations for the first-ever MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award, which carries a $250,000 cash prize, no strings attached. The award will go to somebody engaged in an “extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.” So who better to nominate than Our Doug? I nominated him already, in fact, but maybe more nominations would help.

Here’s the MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award page. And here is Doug’s Wikipedia page if you need to refresh your memory.

Doug, let us know in the comments what contact information for you people might use.

Update: Here is the nomination form.


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Trump Maladministration

This morning Senate Dems announced they had enough votes to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. It’s assumed Republicans will go nuclear and change Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority. And, of course, they will blame Democrats for forcing them to do that.

Sarah Posner:

But, putting aside the fact that Republicans didn’t even give Merrick Garland a hearing for months, Democrats are standing on the moral high ground on the merits. That’s because, at his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch steadily evaded questions designed to pin down his legal views, denying voters any insight into those views. This gives Dems both a defense against the “obstructionist” charge and gives them the better political argument.

Some have argued that Democrats should save their political capital for a future nominee. Gorsuch, this argument goes, won’t shift the balance of power on the court since his views essentially align with those of his predecessor, the late Antonin Scalia. Democrats, then, should hold their fire for a future Trump nominee to replace one of the liberal justices on the court, when the future of abortion rights, for example, hangs in the balance.

But Gorsuch has handed Democrats a robust case against his confirmation, and they should use it. First, there are his rulings. He ruled against a worker suing his employer in what’s now known as the frozen trucker case, siding with an employer who fired its driver Alphonse Maddin, for abandoning his incapacitated (and unheated) truck in subzero temperatures. Gorsuch also ruled for Hobby Lobby over its female employees, holding that a privately held corporation had a religious right to object to the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. In both, Gorsuch showed he’s inclined to interpret statutes as protective of companies with readings that most Democrats and liberal legal experts find highly questionable.

Do read the whole thing.

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