Trump Will Destroy America to Remain in the White House

I’m so happy the Lincoln Project people are working on our side this time.

David Graham, The Atlantic:

For decades, conservative activists and leaders have warned that “jackbooted thugs” from the federal government were going to come to take away Americans’ civil rights with no due process and no recourse. Now they’re here—but they’re deployed by a staunchly right-wing president with strong conservative support.

In Portland, Oregon, federal agents in military fatigues have for several days been patrolling the streets amid ongoing protests about police brutality. These forces, employed by the Department of Homeland Security, have snatched people off the streets of the city, refused to identify themselves, and detained people without charges. Ostensibly, they are present to protect federal buildings from protesters. In practice, they seem to be acting on a much wider mandate, either to suppress protests or (more cynically) to provoke confrontation on behalf of a flailing White House that sees it as electorally beneficial.

If you go to right-wing sites right now, you still see people proposing that the Black Lives Matter protests are the spearheads of a either socialist or fascist takeover (political terms confuse the poor dears), or both. That fascism is being acted out by the Trump administration in broad daylight doesn’t bother them; they don’t even recognize that’s what it is. And I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you.

At the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg goes there: Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun — Protesters are being snatched from the streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?

The month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder published the best-selling book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.” It was part of a small flood of titles meant to help Americans find their bearings as the new president laid siege to liberal democracy.

One of Snyder’s lessons was, “Be wary of paramilitaries.” He wrote, “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.” In 2017, the idea of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants might have seemed like a febrile Resistance fantasy. Now it’s happening. …

… There’s something particularly terrifying in the use of Border Patrol agents against American dissidents. After the attack on protesters near the White House last month, the military pushed back on Trump’s attempts to turn it against the citizenry. Police officers in many cities are willing to brutalize demonstrators, but they’re under local control. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, however, is under federal authority, has leadership that’s fanatically devoted to Trump and is saturated with far-right politics.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Donald Trump picked C.B.P. to be the ones to go over to Portland and do this,” Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, told me. “It has been a very problematic agency in terms of respecting human rights and in terms of respecting the law.”

It is true that C.B.P. is not an extragovernmental militia, and so might not fit precisely into Snyder’s “On Tyranny” schema. But when I spoke to Snyder on Monday, he suggested the distinction isn’t that significant. “The state is allowed to use force, but the state is allowed to use force according to rules,” he said. These agents, operating outside their normal roles, are by all appearances behaving lawlessly.

Snyder pointed out that the history of autocracy offers several examples of border agents being used against regime enemies.

“This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire,” said Snyder. “The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”

And Trump is claiming that the protesters are “not merely protesters.”

The real deal, what? Ooo, something scary, I bet.

I’ve said before that the deployment of jackbooted thugs federal law enforcement agents to U.S. cities is just an extension of the Bible Stunt. It’s Trump showing off how tough he is. That, combined with his incessant claims that Joe Biden is a doddering, senile dupe of the extreme left who would eliminate police departments and let anarchy reign, is now pretty much Trump’s entire re-election campaign.

And Trump has admitted this, says Greg Sargent.

In the course of announcing that “more” federal law enforcement will be descending on cities like Chicago, while hailing enforcement efforts to “grab” people in Portland, Trump quickly segued into a claim about the presidential race.

If Joe Biden gets elected, Trump said, “the whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

Trump just said it straight from the Oval Office: This is all about Biden.

At around that time, Trump’s eldest son tweeted out a new Trump campaign ad that depicts a terrified elderly woman calling 911 about an intruder, while falsely claiming Biden would defund the police. The political messaging is seamlessly connected to President Trump’s claims about Biden in the White House while announcing the new law enforcement actions.

At WaPo, Katie Shepherd provides a history of recent street activism in Portland. In recent years there have been several instances of right-wing militants showing up from out of town, to be confronted by the local lefties. For example:

About six months later, the city was mourning the killing of two men on a light-rail train in a hate crime when a far-right group known to attract neo-Nazis and white supremacists held an “anti-antifa” rally days after the slaying. When more than 2,000 Portlanders marched against the right-wing extremists, police detained almost 400 people and took photos of their IDs.

That incident set off nearly two years of costly protests that frustrated police and the public. Far-right groups not from Portland repeatedly held rallies and marches throughout the city during the summer of 2017, congregating in JuneAugust and September. Local counterdemonstrators showed up in droves.

You might remember Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, one of the two people killed. I wrote about the 2017 killings here. Katie Shepherd writes that part of the pattern is that the local police clearly show favoritism to the right-wing mobs and are much more aggressive toward leftie demonstrators, even when they are being entirely peaceful.

“For years, we’ve had these fascists coming to Portland. They’re always met with a large crowd of antifascists, and the police always brutalize the antifascists and protect the fascists,” Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of the Portland Democratic Socialists of America, told The Post. “It’s made Portland a really great scapegoat for the Trump administration.”

Yes. But you could now say the same thing about nearly any city that has seen large Black Lives Matter protests. The Right wants Trump to put them down. And he will, if he’s allowed. From yesterday:

Trump cited heightened violence in Chicago and New York City, in particular, both of which have seen a rise in shootings in recent weeks. In the latter’s case, he blamed city and state officials for restricting police from taking a stronger response.

“I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you,” Trump said. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.

The recent spike in shootings in NYC appear to be unrelated to protests. But see Shootings Have Soared. Is the NYPD Pulling Back?

And then, as David Atkins warned, this may be leading up to a declaration of martial law that would allow Trump’s goons federal law enforcement agents to interfere with elections. By now Trump must at least suspect he could be cruising to a crushing defeat. He can’t let that happen. In his mind, he can’t lose. Only other people lose.

Jamelle Bouie, the New York Times:

Apparently cobbled together using personnel from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, these “rapid deployment teams” are formally tasked with securing federal buildings from graffiti and vandalism in tandem with the Federal Protective Service, which is ordinarily responsible for the job. But they’re being used to suppress protests in what appears to be an election year gambit by the Trump administration to create images of disorder and chaos on which the president can then campaign. “This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, said last week. “Trump is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.”

The official tasked with coordinating all this action, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, is an enthusiastic participant, casting protesters as “violent anarchists and extremists” in order to justify what’s been done to them. “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said. “This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law.”

On Sunday, Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli (whose official title is “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security”), told NPR that Homeland Security would be taking these tactics nationwide. Wolf affirmed this, telling Fox News that his agency can act with or without local cooperation. “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job,” he said. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.” President Trump likewise vowed to send federal law enforcement agents to several more cities, amid reports that a Portland-like force was headed to Chicago.

This is going to get people killed.

What can be done? Right now there is a DHS funding bill in the House. It was approved out of committee last week. Back to Michelle Goldberg:

On Friday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted about what’s happening in Portland: “Trump and his storm troopers must be stopped.” She didn’t mention what Congress plans to do to stop them, but the House will soon vote on a homeland security appropriations bill. People outraged about the administration’s police-state tactics should demand, at a minimum, that Congress hold up the department’s funding until those tactics are halted.

Write to your Democratic representative to support this proposal. It may be the only leverage we have.

Further Reading:

Just Security, Bill Barr’s Playbook: His False Claims About Prior Military Force on U.S. Soil

Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic, Nothing Can Justify the Attack on Portland

The Guardian, ‘I wanted to take action’: behind the ‘Wall of Moms’ protecting Portland’s protesters

The “wall of moms” in Portland.


We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet

Trump and his campaign are flailing around trying to find a message, or an issue, that will cause the nation to rally around His Orangeness once more. Or, at least enough to close the gap in the polls. Recently he’s been tweeting LAW AND ORDER randomly. And we assume the deployment of jackbooted thugs unmarked federal law enforcement officers to Portland was supposed to do something other than just make street violence in Portland worse. One suspects Trump thought he would be lauded and admired for getting tough with the demonstrators. Maybe his staff is lauding and admiring him, and probably the usual echo chamber of right-wing media approves, but that’s not going to grow his voter base.

But the Trumpers are dropping broad hints that the martial law tactics are not going to be limited to Portland. It appears advance troops have shown up in Chicago already.

The most alarming warning I’ve seen comes from David Atkins — Trump May Use DHS Stormtroopers To Stop People from Voting. “We could end up seeing armed private contractors hired by the RNC and affiliated conservative organizations to intimidate Democratic-leaning voters, bolstered by camouflage-wearing taxpayer-funded rifle-toting border patrol agents aggressively checking papers of every voter in line in the guise of “securing against voter fraud” on the president’s orders.” I’m not going to review all the reasons Atkins thinks this could happen, but do read the article.

I personally see the stormtroopers as an extension of the Bible Stunt, a way for Trump to show off what a tough guy he is. But so far, polls are not showing that it’s helping him any. Most Americans are worried about the pandemic, about money, about whether their children are going back to school. They aren’t fixated on some rock-throwers in Portland.

Meanwhile, there are no end of in-depth stories on the general theme of How Badly Trump Has Screwed Up the Pandemic Response. Here’s a nice one at WaPo — The crisis that shocked the world: America’s response to the coronavirus. It includes this graphic:

That’s kind of awful. Stay safe out there.

Paul Waldman notes that if we lefties were given to conspiracy theories, we might speculate that Trump is deliberately trying to destroy America. His “handling” of the pandemic is so bad, he might as well have been trying for the worst possible response. I don’t think it’s deliberate, though. Trump doesn’t know how to do anything.

I am nearly through the Mary Trump book. One revelation in it that I hadn’t heard elsewhere was about Donald’s move into Manhattan real estate in the 1970s and 1980s, when he renovated the old Commodore Hotel into a Grand Hyatt and built Trump Tower. This was when he built a reputation as a master deal-maker. But all the deal-making involved in those transactions was done by daddy Fred Trump Sr., according to Mary. Donald was just a front man. That was true of the Manhattan projects until Fred succumbed to dementia in the 1990s. He died in 1999.

The first thing Donald did on his own was to start buying real estate in Atlantic City in the 1980s. He developed the casinos on his own but with daddy’s money backing him. Fred didn’t know anything about the casino business, and of course neither did Donald. If he’d stopped at one casino it might have been a success, but going into huge debt to build three casinos in the same place turned out to be really stupid. There wasn’t enough gambling profit in Atlantic City to make the debt payments for all three. So the whole project collapsed.

Trump doesn’t know how to do anything. He’s a bumbling fraud. Things will get worse.

The Ransom Demands

America Held Hostage, continued — As Mitch McConnell begrudgingly acknowledges that yeah, maybe there ought to be another pandemic relief bill, he and Trump declare what they will demand of us in exchange for letting us live.

One, Trump wants to block any funds for testing and contact tracing.

The Trump administration is trying to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, people involved in the talks said Saturday.

The administration is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad, the people said. …

… One person involved in the talks said Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but that certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely. Some White House officials believe they have already approved billions of dollars in assistance for testing and that some of that money remains unspent.

You’ve probably seen the news stories about people waiting in their cars for hours to get a test, and that it takes so many days to get results that the tests are nearly worthless. If there is unspent money for tests lying around somewhere, somebody might want to point to where it is. I suspect there isn’t, unless Jared Kushner is sitting on it somehow.

If you haven’t already read it, do take a look at Inside Trump’s Failure: The Rush to Abandon Leadership Role on the Virus in the New York Times. It’s long, but it does point out a few things that weren’t already obvious. And when you put that together with Mary Trump’s book — I’m nearly halfway through now — the terrible ineptitude that is Donald Trump sorta kinda makes sense. Here is now the Times article begins:

Each morning at 8 as the coronavirus crisis was raging in April, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, convened a small group of aides to steer the administration through what had become a public health, economic and political disaster.

Seated around Mr. Meadows’s conference table and on a couch in his office down the hall from the Oval Office, they saw their immediate role as practical problem solvers. Produce more ventilators. Find more personal protective equipment. Provide more testing.

But their ultimate goal was to shift responsibility for leading the fight against the pandemic from the White House to the states. They referred to this as “state authority handoff,” and it was at the heart of what would become at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.

Over a critical period beginning in mid-April, President Trump and his team convinced themselves that the outbreak was fading, that they had given state governments all the resources they needed to contain its remaining “embers” and that it was time to ease up on the lockdown.

Put that together with Trump’s worldview, as explained by Mary Trump, that nothing bad must ever be Donald Trump’s fault, and for that reason he refuses to accept any sort of responsibility for anything, unless it is an obvious success. Trump and his sycophants viewed the pandemic as a big mess that could turn out badly, so their first priority was to not take responsibility for it. And in Trump’s mind, this whole mess now belongs to the states, and it’s not his problem.

If he were to approve more funds for testing and contact tracing, that would amount to an admission that he hasn’t already done enough. You see the conflict.

Two, Donald Trump wants a payroll tax cut in the package.

Trump is again demanding a payroll tax cut. He and some allies view the policy as an effective way to stimulate the economy and quickly give workers a boost.

“High-ranking White House officials have told me that we will not sign a phase four deal without a payroll tax cut,” Stephen Moore, a White House economic adviser, said in an interview Thursday. “I have talked to several high-level people in the White House who said the president will not sign [the legislation] if it does not include a payroll tax cut. …

…The payroll tax is the 7.65 percent tax that is taken out of workers’ paychecks and goes to fund the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. President Barack Obama at one point temporarily reduced the tax, but Trump wants to eliminate it entirely for some period of time.

Not even all Republicans are on board with this, considering that it would increase the price tag on the relief package and would also only help workers who are, you know, working. If you aren’t getting a paycheck, meh. And, of course, such a cut would put Social Security and Medicare in potential jeopardy, especially if it lasts for very long. But then Mitch McConnell might see that as a plus.

Three, McConnell insists on liability protections for schools and businesses that reopen. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it his red line: liability protection for schools, businesses and other entities that reopen amid the pandemic must be part of any new coronavirus relief package.

No new relief will pass the Senate without it, he’s said repeatedly.

For decades the Republican Party has tried to chip away at our Seventh Amendment right to take personal injury suits to court, so this is just part of a long-standing pattern.

Four, Republicans want cheap relief.

Republicans will want a smaller bill than the Democrats call for. House Dems passed a $3 trillion package in the middle of May that’s been sitting on Mitch’s slush pile. (“Slush pile” is a book publishing term for manuscripts people have sent to editors that never get read and end up in a pile, gathering dust. I used to work with an editor who used a slush pile as a doorstop.) Mitch wants to cap any new relief bill at $1 trillion.

The $600 in additional unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of July may be continued, but Mitch wants the amount cut back to $200 to $400 each week.

Trump Still Counting on the Virus to Just Disappear

I take it that Trump gave a totally unhinged interview to Chris Wallace today on Fox News.

Talking Points Memo:

When Wallace confronted Trump regarding his predictions about the coronavirus “disappearing” someday, Trump replied that he’ll be “right eventually.”

When asked about his administration’s recent efforts to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci — which include an unnamed White House official sending a memo to news outlets last week criticizing Fauci’s past comments on the coronavirus that later turned out to be inaccurate — Trump first replied that “we’re not” before repeating his line that although the nation’s top infectious disease expert has “made some mistakes,” he has a “very good relationship” with Fauci.

After Trump went on to call Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist,” the President argued that he will be “right eventually” about his previous claim that the coronavirus will “disappear” despite surging cases of the coronavirus throughout the country.

This is from the New York Times:

The president made a litany of false claims about his administration’s handling of the virus, despite evidence that key officials and public health experts advising the president made crucial missteps and played down the spread of the disease this spring. In the interview, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” from the virus.

“That’s not true, sir,” Mr. Wallace said.

“Do you have the numbers, please?” Mr. Trump said. “Because I heard we had the best mortality rate.”

The United States has the eighth-worst fatality rate among reported coronavirus cases in the world, and the death rate per 100,000 people — 42.83 — ranks it third-worst, according to data on the countries most affected by the coronavirus compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Trump said that by increasing testing, his administration was “creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, ‘Oh, we have more cases.’”

Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the coronavirus case rate in other countries was lower than in the United States because those nations did not engage in testing. When Mr. Wallace pointed out a low case rate across the European Union, the president suggested it was possible that those countries “don’t test.” And when Mr. Wallace pointed out that the death rate in the United States was rising, Mr. Trump replied by blaming China.

“Excuse me, it’s all too much, it shouldn’t be one case,” Mr. Trump said. “It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape. They should’ve never let it out. But it is what it is. Take a look at Europe, take a look at the numbers in Europe. And by the way, they’re having cases.”

Mr. Trump called Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, an “alarmist” who provided faulty information in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know that he’s a leaker,” Mr. Trump said during the interview. “He’s a little bit of an alarmist. That’s OK. A little bit of an alarmist.”

Mr. Trump said that Dr. Fauci had been against his decision to close the borders to travelers from China in January. That is misleading: While Dr. Fauci initially opposed the idea on the grounds that a ban would prevent medical professionals from traveling to hard-hit areas, he supported the decision by the time it was made.

Mr. Trump also said Dr. Fauci had been against Americans wearing masks. Dr. Fauci has said he does not regret urging Americans not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic, citing a severe shortage of protective gear for medical professionals at the time.

Mr. Trump said he doubted whether Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was correct in predicting that the pandemic would be worse this fall. “I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “And I don’t think he knows.”

He said public health experts and the World Health Organization “got a lot wrong” early on, including a theory that the virus would abate as the weather warmed — one that Mr. Trump himself had promoted repeatedly. Then the president reiterated his earlier claim, unsupported by science, that the virus would suddenly cease one day. “It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right,” Mr. Trump said. “Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”

Trump also said equally unhinged things about election polls and the Black Lives Matter protests; it’s worth reading the article.

The New York Times article cited above, “Inside Trump’s Failure,” paints Dr. Deborah Birx as something of an enabler for Trump’s recklessness. She was the only infectious disease expert allowed to sit on on the group meeting with Mark Meadows every morning. She kept giving Trump assurances that the virus was coming under control. The problem is that her calculations were based on a belief that social distancing restrictions would continue. Trump heard “under control” and said Good; it’s over; let’s open the economy up now.

Dr. Fauci, on the other hand, was calling people around the country and hearing horror stories about what they were facing, leading him to suspect that the numbers Dr. Birx was looking at weren’t telling the whole story. So he was an alarmist, urging more caution. But Birx was the one they listened to.

Pinochet’ed in Portland

Last night, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit in federal court against “the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protection Service and their agents alleging they have engaged in unlawful law enforcement in violation of the civil rights of Oregonians by seizing and detaining them without probable cause,” it says here.

Seriously, this isn’t right.

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been a nightly feature in deeply liberal Portland since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd on May 25. President Donald Trump has decried the disorder and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blasted the protesters as “lawless anarchists” in a visit to the city, helping make the clashes between police and demonstrators a national focus.

The administration has enlisted federal agents, including the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and an elite U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border, to protect federal property. But Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this week that some agents had been driving around in unmarked vans and snatching protesters from streets not near federal property, without identifying themselves.

The Governor Kate Brown of Oregon and the ACLU have denounced the presence of whatever sort of federal law enforcement officers/troops/thugs have been pulling people off the streets in Portland without identifying themselves or giving a reason.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has demanded that Trump “Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city.” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was in Portland yesterday to meet with the troops, during which time he also met with the head of Portland’s police union but not the mayor or other elected officials.

Now, if this strikes you as a tad unconstitutional, I agree. I direct your attention to a long article at Lawfare by Steve Vladeck, What the Heck Are Federal Law Enforcement Officers Doing in Portland?

By all appearances, there are now at least 100 federal law enforcement officers on the ground in Portland. But media reports suggest that many of those officers (a) are not wearing identifiable uniforms or other insignia, (b) are not driving marked law enforcement vehicles, and (c) are not identifying themselves either publicly or even to those whom they have detained and arrested.

Vladeck goes on to say that these officers, dressed in military-type camoflage, appear to be Customs and Border Protection officers. Can they lawfully operate in Portland without permission from city and state authorities? It’s worth reading this article all the way through; here I’m just going to call out the major points.

* Since Oregon is on the Pacific Ocean — although Portland is about 360 miles inland — it can be argued that Oregon is a “border.”

* Many of the protests have gone on around federal courthouses, and federal law enforcement officers are allowed to protect federal courthouses. They have some latitude to detain and arrest people on federal property. Warrantless arrests still require probable cause.

* However, it appears this operation is being run by the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Justice. Protecting federal courthouses would usually be the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

* Also, too, it’s not clear what federal laws are being enforced.

* Under Oregon law federal law enforcement officers may detain and arrest people not on federal property if the officers observe a person violating federal or state law. If we’re talking state law the feds may make an arrest if the officers have also received state training, which they probably haven’t. Also, if the arrest is for violating state law, the officers are required to immediately take the person to state law enforcement authorities.

* Under federal law there is no requirement for federal law enforcement officers to identify themselves. However, Oregon law requires them to identify themselves and state reasons for making arrests.

* The federal officers have been seen patrolling the streets of Portland in unmarked vehicles, which appears to be a violation of all of the above. They’ve also arrested people just walking down streets (see video above) that don’t appear to be federal property.

* There are a great many unanswered questions about what the feds are doing in Portland, and the federal government is not volunteering answers. Further, it’s going to be just about impossible to compel the feds to cough up those answers anytime soon.

Here’s another perspective, from the New York Times:

After President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to send personnel to protect monuments, statues and federal property during continuing protests against racism and police brutality, the Department of Homeland Security formed “rapid deployment teams.” Those are made up of officers from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard and Immigration and Customs Enforcement who back up the Federal Protective Service, which is already responsible for protecting federal property.

Videos showing federal agents using tear gas on protesters and complaints that federal agents lacking insignia are pulling people from the streets have raised questions over the legal authority that homeland security officials have to crack down on citizens. In Portland, federal agents have acted against the expressed opposition of the local authorities.

But officials in Washington said they had clear authority. Customs and Border Protection, which sent tactical border agents to Portland, cited 40 U.S. Code 1315, which under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 gives the department’s secretary the power to deputize other federal agents to assist the Federal Protective Service in protecting federal property, such as the courthouse in Portland.

We’re seeing that all the police powers awarded to the feds after the 9/11 attacks are now being used against U.S. citizens excercising constitutional rights, as many predicted would happen at the time.

Those agents can carry firearms, arrest those accused of committing a crime without a warrant and conduct investigations “on and off the property in question.”

“An interpretation of that authority so broadly seems to undermine all the other careful checks and balances on D.H.S.’s power because the officers’ power is effectively limitless and all encompassing,” said Garrett Graff, a historian who studies the Department of Homeland Security’s history and development.

This goes on to say that detaining protesters not on federal property is a gray area. In times past, the feds would only have gone in at the request of state and local government to assist local law enforcement. Here, state and local authorities are demanding the feds withdraw.

But the lack of any consent from local officials just means federal agents cannot rely on state and local laws to justify the arrests. Federal agents can still detain the demonstrators away from federal property if they can assert probable cause that a federal crime was violated, according to Peter Vincent, a former top lawyer with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has also sent agents to cities across the United States.

“Homeland security’s authorities are so extraordinarily broad that they can find federal laws that they are authorized to enforce across the spectrum, so long as it has some national security, public safety, human trafficking, criminal street gang conspiracy,” Mr. Vincent said.

Again, we’re seeing that powers given the feds to protect us from al Qaeda are now being turned on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights so that Donald Trump can brag about law and order. Or worse.

Charles Pierce:

Why in the hell is this not a bigger story? A major American city is being softly Pinochet’ed in broad daylight. And, if we know one thing, if this president* and his administration* get away with this, it will only get worse. You’d have to be out of your mind—or comatose since the Fall of 2016—not to suspect that this could be a dry run for the kind of general urban mobilization at which the president* has been hinting since this summer’s protests began.

The violence in the Portland protests has consisted mostly of graffiti on federal buildings. “Two more dirty words on the side of a building, and Wolf might be calling in air strikes,” Pierce says.

Portland may be a dumbshow for dummies, but it also looks like a dress rehearsal. This is not an “authoritarian impulse.” This is authoritarian government—straight, no chaser. And this administration has a powerful thirst for it. It will do anything if it thinks it can get away with it in order to benefit a president* who wants to bring the Republic down on his head.

Trump’s twitter feed in recent days has consisted mostly of accusing Joe Biden of wanting to defund the police, which is a bogus charge. I take it he’s determined to make clamping down on the BLM demonstrations the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. So this is going to get worse.

Some of the mystery federal law enforcement in Portland.

And Here We Are

Last night I got a bit tired of hearing all the gee-whiz announcements that Trump used the N word. His niece Mary told that to Rachel Maddow, which was to me the least interesting part of the interview on Maddow’s show last night. Of course he did. The man’s a stone cold racist. Tell us something we don’t know already.

In fact, I don’t recall that Mary T. said anything I didn’t at least suspect, but here is what I found most critical for our understanding of the present moment —

One, according to his neice, back in the day when Trump was allegedly flying high as a big-deal real estate tycoon and casino executive, he didn’t appear to do any actual work. Trump had asked Mary to ghost write a book for him, and she spent several weeks at his office and traveled with him a bit, during which time he told her absolutely nothing useful for his book. He spent his days gossiping on the phone, giving interviews about his social life, and reading newspaper clippings about himself. The people around him were working to keep his businesses going, but Trump appeared to just spend time doing whatever he felt like doing in the moment. In the book, she wrote, “after all of the time I had spent in his office, I still had no idea what he actually did.”

This corroborates my suspicion that one reason Trump hasn’t done, and still isn’t doing, anything to address the pandemic in the U.S. is that he is incapable of disciplining and organizing himself to do anything. He doesn’t know how to do anything. He decides what he wants to happen, and he orders that it be done, but if he had to do anything himself he’d be lost. He’s never actually held a job, remember.

See also “Trump Doesn’t Do Plans” and “The Push to Reopen Schools: Trump in a Microcosm.”

We all know Trump is a liar. But if anything was a revelation, it’s Mary’s description of Trump’s lying as a source of pleasure and as a way to gain power over people. He lies incessantly because he enjoys it and because few people have ever corrected him.

Mary T writes in her book that in the Trump family, lying is a standard coping mechanism. Lying was how they related to each other as children, especially to the sociopathic paterfamilias, Fred Trump Sr. Lying was how they dealt with stressful situations, especially Fred Trump’s wrath. Lying was how they defined themselves. From the book: “For some of the Trump kids, lying was a way of life. … For Donald, lying was primarily a mode of self-aggrandizement meant to convince other people he was better than he actually was.” From an early age, lying was Donald Trump’s primary mode of relating to the world. At this point he’s probably beyond comprehending the difference between lies and the truth. Wrapping himself in lies may be a weird way of protecting, re-affirming, and comforting himself.

Another significant moment in the interview was this:

“I want people to understand what a failure of leadership this is, and the reason he’s failing at it is because he’s incapable of succeeding at it,” Mary Trump said. “It would have required taking responsibility – which would, in his mind, have meant admitting a mistake, which, in his mind, would be admitting weakness, which in my family was essentially punished with the death penalty, symbolic or otherwise. What I think we need to grapple with now is why so many people are continuing to allow this.”

Greg Sargent:

Mary Trump helps us understand why: Faith in these powers of deception were built up over years of wielding them with little consequence, and this became an exercise of power in and of itself, a kind of default setting he can always fall back upon.

It’s also clear in retrospect that when Trump declared in March that “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the epic failure to mobilize testing, it was a seminal moment, a declaration that he would not do this at any point henceforth, no matter what.

Mary Trump helps us understand why: Taking responsibility — undergoing a major course correction — would have constituted an unthinkable admission of failure.

In short, Trump is a walking collection of character and personality flaws, or whatever you want to call ’em — maladjustments, disorders, pathologies. He is incapable of doing anything normal, including normal human relationships. He can’t organize and discipline himself to carry out complex tasks. He doesn’t process information in a normal manner. He is pathologically dishonest. He is incapable of responding normally to basic life challenges, never mind the job he’s got now. And he’s not going to change. If it weren’t for the fact that he was protected by his father and boatloads of money, he wouldn’t have been able to manage an ordinary life or hold any sort of job for very long.

What should alarm us is not so much that Trump is utterly screwed up. It’s that our political system is utterly screwed up. He should never have gotten near a presidential nomination. I believe that in earlier times party leaders would have recognized how unsuitable he was and made sure he was eliminated from the competition, somehow. But that didn’t happen. Once nominated, he shouldn’t have been elected. I blame news media for a lot of that, and the Democratic party also. And once elected, and once it was obvious Trump is incapable of doing the job, he should have been removed from office via a 25th Amendment process. The fact that the system is so broken that we are still stuck with Trump is the real issue here.

What Do Republicans Want?

The short answer to the question above is power, but power for what? to do what? on behalf of what? I’m starting to think that Republicans themselves don’t know any more. They’re running on reflex.

Their core policies now boil down to —

  • Whatever benefits the rich and big corporations, especially tax cuts and deregulation.
  • Screwing the middle class and the poor, because somebody’s got to pay for those tax cuts for the rich.
  • Whatever Christian nationalists/extremists want — criminalizing abortion; license to discriminate against people who are Not Them, especially the LGBQT folks; tax benefits for their parochial schools.
  • Supporting the government of Israel, right or wrong. This is partly to appeal to Christian dispensationalists who believe something about the nation of Israel is going to bring about the Apocalypse any time now. There may also be some hazy thinking that supporting Israel may win them the Jewish vote, even though it hasn’t worked so far. And there is lingering pro-Israeli sentiment left over from the time we were standing with Israel as a pro-western ally against a mostly hostile Middle East. But see the paragraph below about foreign policy.
  • Whatever the NRA wants.
  • Whatever appeals to racism and xenophobia, including demonizing immigrants and nonwhites, and keeping women in their place.

Republicans used to be big on foreign policy, especially “tough” foreign policy designed to spread American hegemony to alien places. But their foreign policy messages are so muddled now I get a sense they’ve given up on it, other than occasional bleating about getting tough on China. They’ve gone silent on perpetual war in the Middle East. Until as recently as last year they were trying to tie Mexican immigrants showing up at the border to ISIS and al Qaeda, but that was bogus, and I haven’t heard them go on about that lately. Russia is now their friend, and they are agraid to speak ill against Putin. They aren’t even sure what to say about Kim Jong Un.

I can’t think of anything else.

And the point is, how does this add up to anything approximating a political or governing philosophy? What is the underlying belief system tying these things together? Some might say “small government,” but the “small government” talking point was always just a scam to persuade middle- and working-class Americans not to expect government to do anything for them. Government can be plenty big enough when Republicans need it for something, like starting a pointless war somewhere or using government powers to deny reproductive rights to women.

Basically, the bulleted items above amount to strategies to appeal to random constituencies so that Republicans can get lots of campagin donations and votes. And maybe it really is just about appealing to the wealthy so that they can cash in themselves, politically and personally. That’s the only explanation that makes sense, frankly. But maybe there’s something else.

I admit that if we apply the same test to Democrats in recent years, the results are even murkier. The growing frustration many of us have had with the Democrats, even as we continued to vote for them, is that the party didn’t seem to stand for anything in particular. They have been more commited to civil liberties than Republicans, but that didn’t translate into consistent support for all freedoms for all people across the board. Most of the time they have been more committed to “safety net” programs than Republicans, but that didn’t mean doing everything possible to enable upward mobility for the poor or to prop up the sagging middle class. It just meant keeping Republicans from scuttling those programs altogether.

For the most part, since the 1980s the Dems have been trying to walk a middle way between what was left of FDR’s Democratic liberalism and Reaganism, and not being especially effective at either. By the time Hillary Clinton ran in 2016 the party faithful were conditioned to believe that ineffective tweaks, halfway measures, and baby steps that never arrive anywhere were just what the country needed, but as you’ll recall that didn’t turn out well.

But today I’m seeing a lot of musing from conservatives, who are admitting they’ve taken a wrong turn, somewhere. For example, at The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum compares her circle of conservative friends from the 1990s to what they are now. After dropping some names — Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz, Roger Kimball, Dinesh D’Souza, David Brooks, Laura Ingraham — she recalls the long-ago days of Reaganite sunny optimism just after the Soviet Union had fallen.

What really held that group together—and what drew me to it as well—was a kind of post–Cold War optimism, a belief that “we had won,” that the democratic revolution would now continue, that more good things would follow the collapse of the Soviet Union. This wasn’t the nostalgic conservatism of the English, or the hard-right nationalism found elsewhere in Europe; this was something more buoyant, more American—an optimistic conservatism that wasn’t backward-looking at all. Although there were darker versions, at its best it was energetic, reformist, and generous, predicated on faith in the United States, a belief in the greatness of American democracy, and an ambition to share that democracy with the rest of the world.

This was always bullshit, of course. Reagan’s “sunny optimism” was a thin veneer of nice over a lot of nasty, especially to African Americans and gays, and I see that Applebaum still isn’t ready to admit that. But let’s go on.

“Reaganite optimism slowly hardened into something better described as a form of apocalyptic pessimism,” Applebaum writes. She is writing in particular about Laura Ingraham, but this could apply to the party that nominated, elected, and protects Donald Trump. The only real difference between that “Reaganite optimism” and “apocalyptic pessimism” is that it’s finally dawning on the Right that they will lose the culture wars, and that their vision of a nation permanently dominated by white, culturally conservative Christians is being overrun by a new vision of diversity. In their guts, they know they’re losing. And that’s what’s pushing them into extremes.

And now the Republican faithful seem divided between those who are prepared to ride Trumpism into oblivion and those who are desperately trying to halt the Trump train while there might be something of Republicanism left to save. This explains the Lincoln Project. We might cheer their work and their spot-on ads, but we must not forget that this same crew was deeply complicit in building the Trump train and setting it on its current course, even if Trump isn’t what they intended. Charles Pierce:

… it should never be forgotten that many of these sharpies honed their skills in the Atwater-Rove era of Republican politics, and that during that time, the Republican Party sold its soul and lost its mind, I think irretrievably.

Cruelty, racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia became the essential raw materials out of which many of these folks molded candidacies. A toxic form of masculinity invaded the party’s personality. It was these campaigns that softened the ground for the march of this president* into the White House. If that were not the case—if, say, President Jeb Bush were running for re-election this time around—these deadly commercials would be aimed squarely at Joe Biden’s shining forehead. That should never be forgotten as we get closer to the election. Max Cleland is available for corroboration.  …

Pierce goes on to say that this crew will have a lot of soul-searching to do on the morning after election day. “There’s a lot of soul-searching to do when you first have to search for your souls,” says Pierce.

Even Jonah Goldberg, who never struck me as an introspective type, is gloomily admitting that the Republican Party now belongs to Roger Stone. The Republican Party has been taken over by hypocrisy and cynicism, Goldberg laments. Do tell.

Of course, whatever happens in November, most of the institutional infrastructure that has kept the Right propped up — the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, Fox News — will still be in place with their same old agenda, whatever that is. I believe the one principle that they still probably hold in common is that Austrian school economics is next to godliness, so they will still be fighting progressive reform.

But the challenge to them is going to have to be, how will they sell perpetual austerity (except for the already wealthy) to voters without resorting to culture war dog whistles to keep the peasants in a state of being pissed off at liberals and minorities? Because if Trump goes down hard in November, this should signal that’s not a well they can draw from any more if they want to win elections.

At Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore asks, What Motivates the Republican Party? It’s a good article, and I recommend reading it all. Kilgore documents clearly that the cynicism and hypocrisy that Jonah Goldberg wails about have been central to how the Republicans have operated for years. IOKIYAR, peeps.

Kilgore argues that what it really comes down to is this:

Over the last several decades, the Republican Party has been conquered by the Christian right and the overwhelmingly white Tea Party movement. The former has a theocratic vision for America. The latter militantly opposes economic redistribution. These movements converged with a realization that demographic trends were unfriendly to their party’s older base, generating a white identity politics that found its natural expression in the intensely divisive and intermittently racist stylings of Trump.

With Trump, the neoconservatives with their dreams of global American dominance were frozen out of this picture in favor of a new version of isolationism. And, of course, the few old-school Republicans left were frozen out some time back because today’s Republican party has no interest in governing at all, other than to create policies to pander to their favored interest groups (see bulleted list, above).

Referencing Steve Benen’s new book The Imposters, which I have not read, Kilgore continues,

Consider, for example, the party’s embrace of devious voter suppression and gerrymandering. Benen treats these as a by-product of Republican opportunism. But for a party existentially committed to restoring (or preserving) white, Christian supremacy in the face of increasing diversity, they are a direct means of delivering that dominance. Similarly, the determination of Republicans to resist any hint of gun regulation, despite public opinion (which The Imposters documents thoroughly), isn’t just a matter of gun lobby campaign contributions. Instead, it comes from a genuine belief among grassroots conservatives that armed struggle against what Trump calls “radical Democrat elites” must remain an option if conventional politics fails.

Arguably the root problem with the GOP, then, isn’t extreme partisanship or a lazy dependence on lobbyists or a taste for fact-free demagoguery. It is the belief that a virtual civil war is necessary to impose Red America’s will on Blue America, now and forever. Donald Trump, with his contempt for democratic norms and his authoritarian narcissism, knows about as much as he needs to for the task of banana republic rule. He is a suitable vessel for this project.

Trump’s entire campaign appears to be coalescing around a kind of call to arms, Red versus Blue. It’s not about governing at all, which Trump doesn’t do. It’s about who gets to dominate whom; who get to write the rules and maintain control, and the hell with republican government. It’s about power, baby. (See also, from 2014, Politics of the Id.)

So we’ll see how that works out. It seems to me that the road ahead for Republicans looks a bit like this:

Meanwhile, with the Clintons finally shoved into retirement the Democratic Party has allowed itself to be pushed a bit to the left. Certainly, it’s not all the way there. But there are signs the future party will be led by progressives, especially progressives of color.

In the meantime, we’ve got Joe Biden, who so far has managed to signal he’s moving left and staying centrist at the same time. Well, whatever beats Trump. Paul Waldman:

When Sen. Bernie Sanders said recently that if Joe Biden implements his policy agenda, the presumptive Democratic nominee could be “the most progressive president since FDR,” he was probably right. In fact, something extraordinary is happening: Biden is getting more progressive in substance, yet it has done nothing to change his image as a moderate.

The Trump campaign is utterly flummoxed by this state of affairs; in reality, they long ago gave up trying to claim that Biden is some kind of extremist, and now can only shout that he’ll be a “puppet of the radical left.” But that doesn’t seem to be convincing anyone either.

The pandemic will be leaving us with damage that won’t be solved by Clintonian tweaks or halfway measures or baby steps that never arrive anywhere, and I get the sense that Biden knows that. And maybe a big enough majority of congressional Dems know that too.

Trump, Missouri Governor Want to Remove an Elected Prosecutor to Protect the McCloskeys

I don’t know why this isn’t getting more attention. Yes, there are headlines saying that Trump is getting involved in the possible prosecution of the McCloskeys, the famously  toxic couple who pointed guns at BLM protesters walking past their house. But this is the part that set off alarm bells for me: Missouri Governor Parsons spoke to Trump on the phone yesterday, and after that Parsons said,

The governor lamented that it is “very difficult” to remove an elected official from office, apparently meaning Gardner, but said that was something state lawmakers should address in a future legislative session. He added that he explained to Trump that his powers as governor were limited in forcing out officials.

“We got to explain to him why it’s very difficult for an elected official in the state, for a governor … how you can remove someone from office — what powers you have as a governor,” Parson said. “I don’t want to make it sound like he’s going to come in here and remove somebody from office, but I guarantee you the president is focused on what’s happening here.”

Here is the prosecutor Trump and Parsons want removed to protect the McCloskeys:

St. Louis Prosecutor Kim Gardner

Kim Gardner is the Circuit Attorney, or chief prosecutor, for the city of St. Louis. She was elected by the people of St. Louis in 2016 and assumed her duties in January 2017. She is the first African American to hold that position.

Trump and Parsons want to remove her from office because they don’t want her to prosecute the McCloskeys.  Parsons wants to change Missouri law to give the power to remove her to the state government, somehow. Of course Trump has no authority to mess with elected officials of a state, never mind a city,. But it strikes me that for a state government to remove the elected official of a city flies in the face of the principles of republican (small R) government.

There have been some notorious cases of state Repubican governors — it seems it’s always Republican governors — dismissing elected city officials and putting emergency managers in their place. You might recall that emergency managers appointed to run Detroit by then Michigan governor Rick Snyder brought about the Detroit water fiasco.

In this case, I’ve heard nothing about Gardner being corrupt. However, she’s been in the crosshairs of righties because she was instrumental in removing the previous governor, Eric Greitens, for campaign finance violations. She has also been butting heads with the St. Louis Police Department over systemic racism, and given the behavior of the StLPD during the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in 2014 — in brief, a police riot — my sympathies are with Kim Gardner on this point. Criminal justice reform was an issue she ran on, after all. And the people of St. Louis elected her.

Yet hardly a week goes by in these parts without some conservative group or rightie politician going on the teevee to complain about Kim Gardner. See Rashad Robinson, The People Who Undermine Progressive Prosecutors, in the New York Times, June 11:

The chief prosecutor in St. Louis, Kimberly Gardner, has made a host of changes — expanding diversion programs, dropping low-level drug cases and refusing cases that rely on untrustworthy police officers, among others.

But after what The Times described as pushback “in a manner that is virtually unheard-of for an elected prosecutor,” now Ms. Gardner is suing her own city, citing “a racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities” by making it harder for her to make the reforms she was elected to make. Her lawsuit is supported by an organization that represents police officers, a majority of whom are black, along with civil rights law firms and many other progressive prosecutors.

If a progressive prosecutor is a black woman like Ms. Gardner, the ploys used by conservatives are shamelessly vicious. Still, no matter how loudly or often police union leaders, and their political allies stoke fear about an impending crime apocalypse if prosecutors carry out reforms, it never comes to pass.

I believe you see the picture here.

As of yet no charges have been filed against the McCloskeys, and perhaps no charges will be filed. According to the local teevee news, St. Louis police have brought a charge of unlawful use of weapons to the prosecutor, but no action has been taken. Missouri gun laws allow white people with guns to pretty much do whatever they want.

Today, Parsons made an announcement that Trump would definitely be getting involved in some punishment of Gardner; but I didn’t catch it all and it’s not online yet. Here is a report from last night’s news:

Here is background on what really happened with the McCloskeys and the protesters. See also this in-depth piece from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the McCloskeys and their long history of being perpetually at war with everybody. These two are a walking toxic waste dump.

A Nation Holding Itself Hostage?

The Mary Trump book went on sale today. I haven’t read it yet, but do read Dahlia Lithwick’s review  (h/t Swami) —

At bottom, Too Much and Never Enough may be the first book that stipulates, in its first pages, that the president is irreparably damaged, and then turns a clinician’s lens on the rest of us, the voters, the enablers, the flatterers, the hangers-on, and the worshippers. It is here that Mary Trump’s book makes perhaps the most enduring contribution to the teetering piles of books that have offered too little too late, even while telling us that which we already knew. Because Mary Trump begins from the assumption that other analysis tends to end with: Donald Trump is lethally dangerous, stunningly incoherent, and pathologically incapable of caring about anyone but himself. So, what Mary Trump wants to know is: What the hell is wrong with everyone around him? As she writes in her prologue, “there’s been very little effort to understand not only why he became what he is but how he’s consistently failed up despite his glaring lack of fitness.”

The book is thus actually styled as an indictment not of Donald Trump but of Trump’s enablers. The epigraph is from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and it’s emphatically not about Donald John Trump at all: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Mary Trump blames Fred Trump for Donald Trump’s pathology, although she doesn’t claim that her uncle is a tragic victim of abuse. She blames his family that propped him up (also her family, it should be noted), and then in concentric and expanding circles, the media that failed to scrutinize him, the banks that pretended he was the financial genius he was not, the Republican Party, and the “claque of loyalists” in the White House who continue to lie for him and to him in order to feed his insatiable ego and self-delusion. Even the phrase “too much and never enough” is perhaps deliberately borrowed from the language of addiction, and what Mary Trump describes here is not just her uncle’s addiction to adulation, fame, money, and success, but a nation’s—or some part of a nation’s—unfathomable addiction to him.

I’ve had enough experience with psychologically damaged people, especially in the workplace, to see the pattern. If you have to deal with a sociopath or narcissist, you’re either all in or all out. There’s no negotiation, no balance, no middle ground. Especially if this person is in a position of authority, you must either go along with the sociopathy and do whatever is necessary to feed the ego monster you’re dealing with, or you walk away. Perhaps a person with therapist training could find a third way, but that’s not most of us.

One issue that’s come up with a lot of people who originally agreed to work in the administration, like Rex Tillerson or John Bolton, is that they later said they had no idea how damaged Trump is (or words to that effect). They’ve never had the experience of working for a sociopath/narcissist. I would bet money that there are many such people in middle management in companies Tillerson has headed, because the sociopath/narcissist tends to fail up because of his/her sheer aggression and ability to intimidate people. Tillerson and Bolton probably have some sociopathic/narcissistic tendencies themselves.

And then, of course, sociopath/narcissists tends to gather other psychologically damanged people around themselves. The word “codependent” comes to mind. They often create office cultures that replicate their dysfunctional families of origin. The result is an absolutely toxic workplace that will probably crash and burn eventually, but perhaps not for years, because workers who want to keep their jobs will keep trying to be productive. But I have seen this happen so many times that it must be pretty common, or else I have really bad work karma to end up working for these people time and time again.

It must be absolute hell to work for the White House now, but I’m guessing the pay is good and it’s a classy thing to put on one’s résumé (although the Trump White House may prove an exception). That accounts for the people who stick there, but some of them must be inwardly seething, because juicy stuff keeps getting leaked to the press. I bet a lot of them are secretly praying that he loses, so that they can be freed from workplace hell without having to quit or be fired.

But then we have to stand back and look at the enablers who don’t actually work in the White House. It’s possible that someday historians will write that the Trump Administration was the nail in the coffin of the Republican Party. We can hope, anyway. Republicans made the choice to stick with Trump because they were afraid of his base of cult worshippers, we’re told. But Republicans are also utterly dependent on a relatively small handful of mega donors, and to a large extent the MAGA-heads and the deep pocket plutocrats are both holding the Republican Party hostage. Nancy LeTourneau writes,

Because Democrats were so successful in raising small donations online via ActBlue, the Republicans created something similar in 2019 that they call WinRed. But it’s not working out very well for them.

Last month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee prepared a slideshow for Senate chiefs of staff full of bleak numbers about the party’s failure to compete with Democrats on digital fundraising. For anyone not getting the message, the final slide hammered home the possible end result: a freight train bearing down on a man standing on the tracks.

The slideshow, obtained by POLITICO, painted a grim picture of the GOP’s long-running problem. Republican senators and challengers lagged behind Democrats by a collective $30 million in the first quarter of 2020, a deficit stemming from Democrats’ superior online fundraising machine. Since then, Democrats’ fundraising pace accelerated further, with the party’s challengers announcing huge second-quarter hauls last week, largely driven by online donors giving through ActBlue, the party’s preferred fundraising platform.

Republican strategists suggest the problem is that their candidates haven’t done the legwork that is necessary to build a grassroots base of small donors. But at least one Republican who lost in 2018 suggests that the problem goes much deeper.

Many candidates have long assumed that “95 percent of the money you would raise would be from large donors, political action committees. Online fundraising was just to check the box,” said former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who lost his seat in 2018 after being outraised by his Democratic opponent. “For a long time, members didn’t understand the potential of online fundraising.”

With tax cuts and deregulation as their only real agenda, Republicans have built their fundraising campaigns around the desires of their big donors who support their election via superPACs. That means that they haven’t had to pay attention to the grassroots in order to build the kind of small donations that come via online fundraising. Therefore, to fully utilize a platform like WinRed requires them to change their entire culture. That’s why they’re struggling.

Instead of protecting Trump, Republicans would be in a much better place now if they’d found a way to dump Trump at least a couple of years ago and let Pence be POTUS. Based on his record in Indiana I doubt he would have handled the pandemic or the police brutality crises effectively, either, but perhaps he wouldn’t have made as total a botch of it all as Trump has. But the Republicans waited too long.

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson had an article in WaPo last week that points to the same thing

How did the GOP get here? The conventional account emphasizes white backlash, particularly white male evangelical backlash. After the civil rights era, Republicans attracted an increasing share of resentful white voters by stoking outrage against a growing list of boogeymen: lawless immigrants, godless liberals, anti-gun zealots, dark-skinned freeloaders. In this account, white mobilization in rural and small-town America explains both Trump’s 2016 victory and his 2020 vulnerability.

This account is not so much wrong as badly incomplete. In its fixation on right-wing populism, it ignores right-wing plutocracy: conservative business leaders and reactionary billionaires who’ve focused not just on winning elections, but on rewriting the rules of our economy and our democracy. The growing power of these forces has encouraged the GOP to embrace a retrograde economic program that has little support even among its own voters. One effect is more inequality. Another is a Republican Party more reliant on white identity to stay in power.  …

… With concentrated wealth has come unprecedented investments in politics by billionaire donors and business organizations, mostly on the right. Showcasing this conservative tilt, in 2016, the anti-government advocacy network associated with Charles Koch spent about as much to advance its reactionary agenda and elect sympathetic politicians as the Republican Party itself. In the process, plutocratic forces have reshaped the positions of both parties — especially the Republican Party.

But how do you keep getting votes with an unpopular agenda? That’s where the race-baiting and stoking the fires of resentment and fear come in. This is what Hacker and Pierson are calling “plutocratic populism.” It’s a strategy that relies on organized money and organized outrage.

In the 1990s, GOP leaders like House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and future House Speaker John A. Boehner embraced wealthy donors and an increasingly assertive business community, which had started ramping up its political efforts in the 1970s. Simultaneously, they nurtured grass-roots groups skilled at stoking grievance, particularly the Christian right and the National Rifle Association. Crucially, so long as these groups got a full-throated defense of gun rights and traditional values (especially from nominees to the federal courts), they had no problems with the party’s plutocratic priorities.

That works as long as members of the outraged mob are either reasonably well off or are completely blinded to how they’re being used. And the wins for the plutocracy under Trump have been huge. Outrageous tax cuts, plutocracy-friendly judges, killing safety and environmental regulations, you name it. The rich are winning, bigly. No wonder the stock markets keep going up even though the economy is in big trouble.

But these wins have come at a growing price. Outsourcing outrage has secured elections but also succored extremism — at times violent extremism. Conservative media have amplified the worst of it. Republican leaders who cultivated backlash soon found themselves undone by it. Two GOP speakers resigned in turn. As Boehner’s chief of staff lamented, “We fed the beast that ate us.” Trump, who fattened the beast, was the party’s logical destination.

Now the bill may be due. If the problem were just an aging and outnumbered voting base, it would be vexing enough. But Republicans have also locked themselves into priorities with powerful backers yet little popular support. When Republicans’ extraordinarily top-heavy 2017 tax bill looked set to fail, one GOP senator predicted “the financial contributions will stop.” Another warned, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’ ” A year later, GOP donors were privately advocating that candidates downplay the tax cuts and hype an immigrant “invasion.”

I wrote a couple of days ago that Trump is holding us all hostage, and it still feels that way because none of our crises can be competently addressed as long as he is POTUS. But of course it’s bigger than that. The Republican Party is holding us hostage but the plutocrats and the Trump cult are holding the Republican Party hostage. And as long as the Clinton cult controlled the Democrats, the Democratic Party played the role of enabler of much of what the Republicans were up to. But I think the Dems are finally starting to move on from the Clintons, at least.

Basically, though, we’re a nation holding itself hostage. Nothing but a complete break with the patterns of the past four to five decades or so will save us.

Der Spiegel

How Worthless Is Betsy DeVos?

Well, this went well.

In brief, she is demanding that schools fully open at their regularly scheduled time, but she wants local school districts to come up with their own plans for how to keep children safe.

“Every school should have plans for that situation to be able to pivot and ensure that kids can continue learning, at a distance if they have to for a short period of time,” she said. What’s the plan? The plan is to have plans. It’s a plan plan.

Bash followed up: “Why do you not have guidance…just weeks before you want those schools to reopen,” she wondered, “and what happens if there’s an outbreak?”

“You know, there’s really good examples that have been utilized in the private sector and elsewhere, also with front line workers and hospitals, and all of that data and all of those examples can be referenced by school leaders,” DeVos said.

Private sector office buildings are not schools. Meat packing plants are not schools, Hospitals are not schools. Warehouses are not schools. Schools are different from those places in a lot of ways. Schools involve large numbers of children, some of them quite small, for one thing. Certainly a big city school will have different issues from a small rural school, but will the administration not even provide some baseline criteria? And what about appropriating some money for schools that need to find more space in order to keep students further apart? And what about covid-19 tests?

DeVos flamed out on Fox News, also:

WALLACE: And President Trump tweeted Friday: Schools must be open in the fall. If not open, why would the federal government give funding? It won’t.

Two quick questions and I need a quick answer if I can from you, Secretary DeVos.

One, under what authority are you and the president going to unilaterally cut off funding, funding that’s been approved from Congress and most of the money goes to disadvantaged students or students with disabilities? And secondly, isn’t cutting off funding exactly the wrong answer? Don’t you want to spend more money to make schools safer, whether it’s with plastic shields or health checks, various other systems? Does it make more sense to increase funding for schools where it’s unsafe rather than cut off funding?

DEVOS: Look, American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.


WALLACE: Well, you can’t do that.

DEVOS: It’s promise to the American people. That’s —


WALLACE: I know you support vouchers and that’s — I know you support vouchers, and that’s a — that’s a reasonable argument. But you can’t do that unilaterally, you have to do that through Congress.

DEVOS: Well, we’re looking at all the options because it’s a promise to the American people, to students and their families, and we want to make sure that promise is followed through on.  …

…WALLACE: But, Secretary, I want to get — I want to get to this issue of — because the president of the United States said that the CDC guidelines were tough, expensive and impractical. I want to look at some of the other CDC guidance. They talked about putting up shielding in places where six foot — six feet of distance is not possible, plastic shielding. They talked about staggered drop-offs and pickups. Is that tough, expensive and impractical?

DEVOS: Well, again, all of the guidelines are meant to be helpful, to help local education leaders decide and work on how they are going to accomplish what they need to do, and that is getting kids back in school based on their situation and their realities. We know that schools across the country look very different and that there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to everything. But the key is, there has to be a posture of doing something, of action, of getting things going, putting a plan together for your specific school, for your specific district or for your classroom that ensures that kids are going to start learning again this fall.

Today the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts announced they would be online only in the fall. I suspect there will be more such announcements. I also anticipate a lot of school districts opening up and then closing back down again when a child tests positive and parents decide to keep their kids home.

But DeVos, like Trump, doesn’t think rules apply to her. Last October she was held in contempt of court for trying to collect student loan debts from people defrauded by for-profit college chains, notably ITT Technical Institute, and Corinthian College, that had collapsed. An injunction had been placed on collecting the debts by a U.S. District Court Judge; DeVos tried to collect them, anyway. She argued that the students still had gotten some value from the schools even though the schools are so notorious now that credits from them are worthless.

This is an ongoing issue. Most recently, the Department of Education has been mailing out letters to people who had filed claims for debt relief. The letters say their claims were accepted but they get zero relief, because they had suffered no financial damage, even though they can’t even put their ITT credits on their resumes.

DeVos also has been using the pandemic as an excuse to funnel public school money into private and religious schools. This is from May:

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, signed in late March, included $30 billion for education institutions turned upside down by the pandemic shutdowns, about $14 billion for higher education, $13.5 billion to elementary and secondary schools, and the rest for state governments.

Ms. DeVos has used $180 million of those dollars to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

And she has nearly depleted the 2.5 percent of higher education funding, about $350 million, set aside for struggling colleges to bolster small colleges — many of them private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need. The Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, a private college in Wisconsin that has a website debunking claims that it is a cult, was allocated about $495,000. All of the colleges could apply for the funds or reject them, and Wright officials said the school did not claim the funds.

This is from last week, after Trump demanded that all schools must open in the fall.

Trump then threatened that if schools don’t reopen for in-person instruction in the fall, the federal government might withhold the billions and billions of dollars it sends to primary and secondary education each year. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos later clarified that the federal government would not withhold public education funding entirely but instead convert grants to schools and districts that don’t open sufficiently into private education vouchers for families. …

… DeVos also initially pushed to tilt coronavirus relief funds away from public schools and toward private schools. In the face of widespread opposition, her department modified that proposal, though public school advocates continue to express skepticism. She also announced plans to use some of the Cares Act funding to provide “microgrants” to support home schooling families.

Also this week, DeVos has been slammed for scheduling more time for meetings with the Federalist Society about ways to protect young men from sexual assault allegations instead of addressing the looming school opening fiasco.

And there have been news stories that children taken from parents at the border have been given to a “Christian” adoption agency with ties to DeVos. With all the other crises going on, that one keeps getting lost.

Chris Koski at a Lawyers, Guns, and Money notes that DeVos is someone horrible enough to have stayed in her position the entirety of the Trump Administration — incompetent, evil, and servile. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in business economics from Calvin College in Michigan, did not go to graduate school, and has never been a teacher, so she has no qualifications whatsoever for her position. She does appear to have a deeply held animus against public schools, which of course would make her a logical choice to Trump.

UNITED STATES – MARCH 28: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on the FY2020 budget request for the Department of Education in Dirksen Building on Thursday, March 28, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)