This Perilous Moment

Yes, in this perilous moment there is chaos and danger. Trump is causing a lot of it. I am not going to say he’s causing all of it, as the root causes of the chaos and danger are older than his administration. Indeed, many of the root causes are older than he is. And just as there is fear and anger across the political spectrum, there are hotheads across the political spectrum throwing fuel on the fire.

Today we’re learning that a man under investigation for the shooting of a Trump operative in Portland Saturday night is known to be aligned with antifa. He is a white man, which doesn’t surprise me. I was sorry to hear this, because until now there were no deaths that could be associated specifically with antifa, compared to multiple deaths caused by right-wing violence in recent years. But now that there’s one, Trump and his goons will make the most of it and want every leftie in the country rounded up.

Charles Pierce, after noting that police departments are on the side of Trump’s thugs:

I honestly don’t know where this all leads. The president* is all but encouraging this behavior. (His planned trip to Kenosha on Tuesday already is grotesque.) It’s becoming more clear by the day that many law enforcement officials have chosen sides. It’s come to guns already and who’s to say we won’t have armed and rowdy caravans turning up at polling places on election day? Will the cops block intersections to let them pass through? I certainly wouldn’t bet against it. And what would the reaction to this be from the other side? I hope nobody’s counting on the Feds to maintain order the way they did in Mississippi in 1962, because the teams have switched jerseys. The only short-term answer I can see is de-escalation and, unfortunately and unfairly, that may have to come from the side with legitimate grievances. I have been fairly nauseated over the past few days as white pundits instructed black people on proper civil disobedience etiquette. But I have no problem telling the Caucasian auxiliaries/hangers-on/vandals to back the hell off.

De-escalation doesn’t mean surrender. It doesn’t mean you abandon the field. It means discipline and intelligence and a willingness to sublimate your emotions to both. A former Black Panther once told me that “Spontaneity is the art of fools.” That still holds. It is incumbent upon all of us not to help the president* wreck what’s left of the country.

Why doesn’t it surprise me that the alleged Portland shooter is a white man? Because the white guys as a rule never learned to be disciplined, never learned when to back off, never had to be careful. In all my years of going to demonstrations and protests it was always white guys who were the biggest assholes in the crowd.

But now it’s clear that Trump’s plan going forward is to foment as much chaos and destruction as possible and blame it on the Left. Let’s not help him.

Here’s your reading assignment:

Paul Waldman, Trump’s strategy: If you feel uneasy enough, you’ll turn to the strongman.

Greg Sargent, Trump’s vile tweetstorm reveals the ugly core of his ‘law and order’ campaign

David Atkins, White Supremacists Are Invading American Cities To Incite a Civil War

Charles Blow, Trump, Vicar of Fear and Violence

Nicholas Kristof, The Lawbreakers Trump Loves

Franklin Foer, How Donald Trump Is Killing Politics

Yoni Appelbaum, How America Ends

That last one was first published in December 2019, but it’s very much worth reading. It argues that the U.S. Right is facing an existential threat from changing demographics, and it isn’t likely to go down without a fight.

Instead of reaching out and inviting new allies into its coalition, the political right hardens, turning against the democratic processes it fears will subsume it. A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.

Trump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them. That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.

See also Joe Biden smacks down Trump in Pittsburgh.

Caravan of Trump Thugs Invades Portland to Stir Up Violence

‘On August 29, 2020 at about 5:30 p.m. a caravan of hundreds of vehicles travelled from Clackamas Town Center into Portland,” says a news release from the Portland Police Bureau. “This line of vehicles stretched for miles. A significant number of vehicles drove downtown, clogging traffic from the Morrison Bridge into downtown.”

In the night, a man associated with the Prayer Patriots, a right-wing group, was shot and killed. His name has not been released, and so far there is no indication who shot him, or if the police even have any suspects. The Portland Police Bureau is asking the public for videos or eyewitness accounts of the shooting.

One video of the caravan was retweeted by You-Know-Who. This would have been after the shooting.

Here are more tweet/videos of the caravan from a New York Times reporter.

That last one got retweeted, too.

In Trump’s version of reality, these goons were necessary and righteous people who went to Portland to maintain order. Yes, clogging the streets and spraying people randomly with pepper spray and paintballs is obviously about maintaining order, she said sarcastically.

This is from Baker’s New York Times story:

A video that purports to be of the Saturday night shooting in Portland, taken from the far side of the street, showed a small group of people in the road outside what appears to be a parking garage. Gunfire erupts, and a man collapses in the street.

The man who was shot and killed was wearing a hat with the insignia of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group based in the Portland area that has clashed with protesters in the past. Joey Gibson, the head of the group, said Sunday he could not share many details but could confirm the man was a good friend and supporter of Patriot Prayer.

The Portland Police Bureau said that officers heard reports of gunfire shortly before 9 p.m. and found a victim with a gunshot wound to the chest. It was determined that the victim had died. They did not release any information about a possible gunman.

The Daily Mail has the purported video; I can’t make out much from it.

I don’t believe I had ever before heard of the Patriot Prayer, or Prayer Patriots, or whatever they call themselves. This November 2019 news story puts them in league with the Proud Boys.

On a drizzly Portland day this past September, members of Vancouver-based Patriot Prayer gathered at Portland’s Pioneer Square for what they called a prayer march.

About 30 of the members were greeted by a handful of counterdemonstrators, a contingent of Satanic Portland Antifascists among them.

And I had never heard of the Satanic Portland Antifascists, either.

Members sporting helmets and video cameras documented the verbal sparring. One Patriot Prayer member told a black counterprotester to “go back to Africa.” The occasional passerby yelled for them to “go back to Washington” or “no one wants you here.”

Patriot Prayer is a far-right group that has attracted racist and violent followers. The group is similar to the more well known Proud Boys, another violent extremist group. …

…As recently as Sunday, Proud Boys members were videotaped grappling with and punching a person on an overpass in Portland.

Portland in particular has been a leading example of how law enforcement has struggled to grapple with toxic political discourse playing out in the streets. Every few months since 2017, the city has grabbed national attention as far-right groups and counterprotesters throw milkshakes, douse each other with bear spray or engage in street fights.

So there’s history with this group in Portland, going back to long before the killing of George Floyd. And Trump encourages these goons. He gives them permission to be as bad as they want to be. Back in June Adam Serwer wrote that Trump Gave Permission to Police to Be Brutal. “Trump has few ideological convictions as consistent as his belief in the redemptive power of state violence against religious and ethnic minorities,” Serwer wrote. And if state violence isn’t doing the job, then a mob of right-wing thugs will do the job just as well. See also Trump isn’t the ‘law and order’ president. He’s the ‘lawless and disorder’ president at Business Insider.

Yes, the dead Prayer Patriot may have been killed by a Black Lives Matter sympathizer.  But these goons have hungered for a race war, or an ideological war, or some kind of war, for years. So much of the domestic terrorism we experience in the U.S. is carried out by right-wing goons who want to start a war. The killing of their fellow traveler should make them proud they are getting closer to their goal.

And then there’s the media coverage of this nonsense. Jennifer Rubin:

Republican elected officials feel comfortable reverting to the Southern Strategy, portraying themselves as the only thing standing between White people and violent Black people. It is a tune they have been singing since 1968.

Naturally then, the news media is holding Trump accountable for violence, insisting that he condemn police excesses and … no, that is not happening. Instead, they amplify Trump’s demand that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden do something about the violence. Biden’s weak-kneed supporters (playing into Trump’s hands) blame Biden for not denouncing violence — which Biden has repeatedly done. That in turn generates a spate of “Democrats worried violence hurts Biden” articles. The media focus on the same few incidents of violence drowns out reports (mostly in print, rarely on TV news) explaining White instigators’ role in these events. (When the role of White provocateurs does make the news, there is rarely video to accompany the brief reference to White agitators.) And you wonder how Trump gets away with rabid race-baiting?

Yeah, that’s spot on. Can’t argue with it at all.

Rubin also calls on Biden to go on offense and “demand Trump denounce shootings of unarmed Black men, stop Republican obstruction to police reform, cease veneration of symbols of white supremacy such as the Confederate flag and decry White armed groups.” Sounds good.

As Rubin says, Democrats should not allow themselves to be put on the defensive about whatever happened in Portland last night, or about the shootings (BY A TRUMP SUPPORTER!) in Kenosha, or any of the other violence being carried out by Trump’s thugs who are provoking violence in our cities.

Yesterday a miles-long caravan of hundreds of vehicles displaying Trump signs invaded Portland. The caravan riders clearly intended to provoke violent confrontation, and someone died. Those are the plain facts. And until the police stop playing nice with these thugs, violence is going to continue.

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and the Jesus Biz

The political world is still crafting post-convention analyses and taking a deep breath before we plunge into the last two months of the campaigns. This seems like a good time to take a moment to make fun of Jerry Falwell, Jr.

I had forgotten this, but I wrote a post about Jerry Jr. about a year ago. See The Jesus Scam. At the time, among other things, Falwell was being accused of turning Liberty University into a real estate hedge fund, using student tuition money to buy real estate.

In that post I quoted a bit from a TPM article on Junior:

Jerry and his wife Becki seem to have a pattern of striking up intimate relationships with younger, extremely fit men; nude or provocative pics of Becki get into the mix somehow and then suddenly the younger guy is set up with his own business courtesy of a few million from the Falwells or Liberty University. …

…Provocative or nude photos of Becki Falwell also seem to be an open secret among top Liberty executives and even present in many inboxes.

The “pool boy” in the recent news stories is Giancarlo Granda, and I believe that’s Giancarlo in the photo below, which I pulled from Talking Points Memo. Giancarlo has been very upfront about the nature of his relationship with the Fallwells. But there have been other Falwell boy toys, including a personal trainer whom the Falwells set up with his own gym.

The best part is that it appears Falwell’s 2016 endorsement of Donald Trump came after Michael Cohen arranged a “cyber fixer” to make certain photos of Becki Falwell disappear from the Internet. Falwell also used a Liberty University social media account to promote Trump, which was a violation of tax regulations.

I wrote last year,

What is more American than big-name evangelicals getting caught in sex-and-money scandals? Certainly Falwell is part of the rich tradition of Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggart, and Jim Bakker. However, it should be said that Fallwell is not ordained; he’s a lawyer. Jesus is just the family business.

The support for Trump among white evangelicals shouldn’t make sense, except it does. I don’t think there is any one reason why a supposedly devout Christian person would get swept up in the cult of Trump. I believe there are a lot of reasons. But two big ones are money and power.  And also not being all that devout.

Trump Is Cancer

At The Bulwark, Jonathan Last writes that Trump is forever.

Either a year from now or five years from now, Donald Trump will step away from the presidency. Raise your hand if you think he will retire to Mar-a-Lago and delete his Twitter account.

It seems much more likely—maybe inevitable—that once he leaves office, Trump will continue to tweet and call in to cable news shows. Perhaps he will even attend political rallies, which is the part of the job he seems to enjoy most.

There is no reason to think—none at all—that he will discontinue his penchant for weighing in on American politics on an hourly basis. There is every reason to think that he will vigorously attack any Republican who was disloyal to him during his administration. Or retroactively criticizes his tenure. Or runs in opposition to one of his preferred candidates. Or jeopardizes any of his many and varied interests.

What this means is that there is no way for a Trump-skeptical Republican to simply wait out the Trump years. There will be no “life after Trump” because Trump is going to be the head boss of Republican politics for the rest of his days.

As I said at the beginning: Trump is not a caretaker of the Republican party. He is the owner.

David Byler at WaPo agrees.

The Republican Party’s intellectual crisis was on full display during the GOP convention. On Monday, the party announced that it wouldn’t publish a new platform: Instead, its members promised to support “the President’s America-first agenda” and threw out some half-baked bullet points. In the days that followed, speakers heaped praise on the president, making clear that his person, rather than a program, is the guiding light of the party. The GOP used to be animated by a marriage of social conservatism, economic libertarianism and foreign policy hawkishness. Now there’s just President Trump and his instincts.

This intellectual hollowness is a ticking time bomb for the GOP. As soon as Trump leaves office, whether in 2021 or 2025, the Republican Party will have to deal with the intellectual and political consequences of elevating him. And it won’t be pretty.

The first problem: Even after Trump is out of office, he’ll still be in charge.

Trump, with the help of Fox News and other enablers, has turned a large part of the Republican base into a Trump cult of personality. As I wrote a few days ago, the “party of ideas” has abandoned everything it used to claim to stand for and has become little more than an extension of Donald Trump’s id. Assuming he is defeated in November and leaves office in January, he’s going to continue to act as the leader of the Republican Party whether anyone likes it or not. As long as he’s got access to Twitter and enough of the news media to get his voice out, he’ll still be in charge. The rest of the party may find moving on without him isn’t so easy.

And I have to add that a big part of the reason Trump was able to so infect the body of the Republican Party is that it had already been hollowed out by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Yeah, Ryan was supposed to be a policy wonk, but he was a fake one. For eight years during the Obama Administration, the only guiding principle of the party was obstructing Barack Obama and the Democrats. Instead of policy ideas, they gave us empty talking points to damage Obama policies. Even before that, the party’s policy integrity had already been challenged by the Bush Administration, to the extent that the Democrats took back Congress in the 2006 midterms. And during the Clinton Administration, the GOP mostly existed to manufacture scandals to damage the Clintons.  See also “The Empty Center” from 2017.

It seems to me that Republicans have been coasting on the Reagan Myth for the past forty years. The Reagan Myth is how establishment Republicans love to remember Ronald Reagan, as the “sunny optimist” who nearly single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union and made the world safe for democracy while juicing the economy with tax cuts. Let’s just say I remember him differently. At some point, the optimistic, shining-city-on-a-hill rhetoric — probably more Peggy Noonan than Reagan, anyway — was utterly betrayed by a party that actively undermines democracy in the service of its wealthy benefactors. By the time of the infamous 2000 Florida recount, this process was already well underway.

So it was that by 2016 the Republicans had no genuinely statesmanlike candidates to run for the White House, just a pack of cartoon characters. And the most cartoonish of the cartoons won. Since then Trump has acted as a cancer on the body of the Republican party, turning everything that was still clinging to some kind of political normalcy into variations of himself.

Of course, Trump wouldn’t have won had the Democrats not lost their own way to become a party of socially liberal and economically comfortable urban professionals who sort of forgot there are other people in America. But at least the Democrats have remained serious about governing.

David Byler goes on to say that the Republican Party may need a few years to genuinely move beyond Trump. In the meantime, we’re likely going to see a lot of Trump wannabees running for office. “Republicans spent decades mimicking Ronald Reagan — if they do the same with Trump, the results could be disastrous,” he writes. Perhaps the best thing that could happen for the Republicans would be for Trump to face criminal convictions once he’s out of office, which could very well happen. And then Republican office holders could fake being shocked and dismayed about it and use Trump’s legal downfall as an excuse to change course. We’ll see.

But Trumpism is more than just the Republican Party. It is the American Right. At the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie writes that Kenosha Tells Us More About Where the Right Is Headed Than the R.N.C. Did. The likes of Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter and other people we might loosely call “thought” leaders of the Right have hailed the hapless Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. Along with the elevation of the McCloskeys as Official Republican Spokespeople, the Right is showing us what they value most of all. And what they value most of all is the right to use deadly weapons to threaten and kill Trump’s political opposition. To the Right, civil liberties and democracy are meaningless technicalities. They will make America “great” again by terrorizing and eliminating everyone who isn’t them, all the while whining about “cancel culture.”

The Right is very dangerous, to the nation and to all of us as individuals. Given global climate change, the American Right is a danger to the planet. Four more years of Trump would possibly close any remaining window we might have to save our species.

I watched none of the Republican convention and have nothing to say about it, except that I am taking some hope from the fact that the RNC convention appears to have been less watched than the DNC convention. Viewership of both conventions has been down from previous years, but “television viewership as a whole has declined significantly in the last four years,” it says here. I take it this is because people are using streaming services more and watching broadcast and cable less. Anyway, I don’t doubt that Joe Biden will win the popular vote, assuming all the mail ballots are counted.

See also Charles Pierce’s critique of Trump’s acceptance speech, which begins, “And, at the ragged and unmasked end of it, he was an old and burned-out magician who’d long ago hocked his cabinet and now was eating his own rabbits for food.”

Kyle Rittenhouse, meanwhile, is sitting in a county jail in Waukegan, Illinois, while his lawyers fight his extradition to Wisconsin. He’ll probably remain in Waukegan for another month, at least. Also:

The Kenosha County District Attorney on Thursday laid out six counts against Kyle Rittenhouse in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the attempted killing of Gaige Grosskreutz and the reckless endangerment of reporter Richard McGinnis, after Mr. Rittenhouse was initially arrested and charged with homicide on Wednesday.

The new charges against Mr. Rittenhouse include first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, first-degree intentional homicide and possession of a dangerous weapon. When he was first arrested Wednesday in his hometown of Antioch, Ill., the teenager was charged with first-degree homicide.

The reporter, McGinnis, was present when Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, it says here. The more information that comes out, the more it appears Rittenhouse just plain panicked but was in no real danger and did not need to defend himself.

See also Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha, and the Sheepdog Mentality by Graeme Wood at The Atlantic and International Conservatism Needs Trump to Lose by John Gustavsson at The Bulwark.

I’m not entirely sure what this expression suggests. I did not Photoshop this.

Kenosha: One Damn Mess

Several news sources have analyzed a lot of videos, such as the one above, to try to figure out what happened in Kenosha the night before last. Many video show a chaotic scene with the sound of many gunshots — probably more than one shooter — and a lot of people running. And then we see the teenaged Kyle Rittenhouse, possibly on a cell phone, saying he had just shot somebody. The circumstances around this first shooting are murky. After this we see him running down a road with others in pursuit and he tripped, and while on the ground he shot and killed one of the pursuers. In total, it is alleged he shot three people. Two died at the scene, and one lived but with serious injuries to an arm.

One already finds people on social media sneering that Rittenhouse fired in self-defense. This is always the excuse. What do you expect? He was being threatened! What I expect is that he shouldn’t have been there to begin with. The kid lives in Antioch, Illinois. Antioch is less than 25 miles from Kenosha, but still.

I wondered all day yesterday what kind of parent would allow a 17-year-old to drive to another state with a firearm to get mixed up in a potentially violent and dangerous situation. Today, there are reports that his mother drove him to Kenosha. If true, she should be charged as an accomplice. And have her head examined.

Yesterday I heard a BBC broadcaster practically blubbering with incredulity as to why these unauthorized, undeputized men were being allowed to walk all over Keosha brandishing weapons. And the answer is that Wisconsin is one of those “open carry” states in which anyone can openly carry loaded firearms without a license. However, at 17, Rittenhouse was too young to enjoy that privilege. Wisconsin is not a “stand your ground” state, strictly speaking, but Rittenhouse may be able to claim self-defense anyway, according to this article.

In the case of the person killed after Rittenhouse had tripped, it appears Rittenhouse was being pursued because he’d already killed somebody. And the pursuers were not armed. The man Rittenhouse killed in that street appears to have been brandishing a skateboard. He was trying to apprehend a killer.

At that point, in my mind, Rittenhouse had achieved the status of mass shooter. Usually the act of apprehending a mass shooter makes someone a hero.

The most charitable thing I can say about Kyle Rittenhouse is that he was in way over his head. He had no training, no experience to guide him. And 17-year-old boys are not exactly famous for their impulse control and sensible judgment. He probably did find himself in a circumstance in which he was frightened, justifiably or not, and started shooting. He should not have been there. And if the Kenosha police had had a lick of sense they would have pulled this obviously not-yet-an-adult boy aside earlier in the evening and told him to go home. But they didn’t.

See Why police encouraged a teenager with a gun to patrol Kenosha’s streets at Vox.

A recent paper by University of Arizona sociologist Jennifer Carlson offers some insight into the police’s behavior. She conducted dozens of hours of interviews about guns with 79 police chiefs in three states — Michigan, California, and Arizona — to try to better understand the way police see armed civilians.

Carlson found that police leaders tended to see armed civilians as allies, maybe even informal deputies — provided they fit a set of racially coded descriptors.

“Police chiefs articulated a position of gun populism based on a presumption of racial respectability,” Carlson writes. “‘Good guys with guns’ were marked off as responsible in ways that reflected white, middle-class respectability.”

So the white strangers with guns are assumed to be good guys, no questions asked. That’s got to stop.

There are reports from several sources that the armed, white vigilantes who showed up in Kenosha to “protect” the city were being treated much more leniently and congenially by police than the cops were treating protesters. The news report at the top of the post alleges the undeputized vigilantes were allowed to remain in areas from which “civilians” were barred. And at the end of the evening, police officers at the scene allowed Rittenhouse to walk away and go home, in spite of multiple other persons yelling at the cops that Rittenhouse was “the shooter.”

See also White supremacists and militias have infiltrated police across US, report says.

The racial injustice protesters are blamed for whatever violence occurs near their protests, but often — possibly more often than not — it’s the counter-protesters, the vigilantes, who do the real damage.

It’s not like we haven’t seen this video before.

We saw it on June 17 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when an armed man shot a protester who was trying to take down a statue of the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate, seen by many as a symbol of oppression.

We saw it on July 10 in Milwaukee when a group of armed white men surrounded a group of Black Lives Matter protesters.

We saw it on July 4 in Phoenix when a group of armed counter-protesters aimed their loaded rifles at an unarmed group demonstrating against police brutality.

We saw it on May 15 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when hundreds of armed protesters — some carrying signs comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to a Nazi — called for an end to the state’s pandemic lockdown. President Trump later tweeted approvingly, saying Pennsylvanians “want their freedom now.”

The circumstances that led to Rittenhouse allegedly firing his rifle are still murky. Authorities aren’t saying much about what happened before the teen ended up on the ground, repeatedly firing his weapon.

But what we do know is this: There’s nothing strange in America, nothing at all, about right-wing white men of limited good sense parading around with big guns, convinced they are saviors of the American way of life, when in fact they are obvious fools.

And the police are fools for accepting these meatballs as allies, especially since not all white supremacist gunmen are pro-police.

The presence of right-wing militia, or Boogaloo Boys, or Proud Boys, Three Percenters, or whatever the wannabe Klansmen are calling themselves these days, is an obvious accelerant in already volatile situations. They have a right to peacefully aseemble and demonstrate and speak their minds. They don’t have a right to threaten other citizens or assume the roles of police and soldiers. None of them really want to “keep the peace.” They want to dominate. They want to show who’s boss. The more extremist among them probably are hunkering for an excuse to kill Blacks and “libtards.”

But this is where America’s gun-worship has brought us. I doubt that what happened in Kenosha this week could have happened in any other country that is not in an active war zone. In no other country do cops smile benignly at strangers from who-knows-where carrying loaded firearms near an already unstable situation.

I don’t want to excuse violence by protesters, when it happens. News stories say that there has been a lot of looting and burning gong on overnight, presumably by protesters. But we’ve seen in other cities that often the genuine protesters and the looters-burners are separate groups of people. We’ve also seen too many circumstances in which perpetrators turned out to be right-wing operatives trying to stir up animosity to the demonstrations. I assume nothing at this point.

Gov. Tony Evers announced today that National Guard from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama will join Wisconsin National Guard already in Kenosha. These are not federalized Guard, so Trump did not send them, even though he may take credit. The out-of-state guard are “under the operational control of Wisconsin’s adjutant general during their mobilization but remain under their respective state’s administrative control.” They should be able to keep the peace without the amateurs in the way.

In Other News

I’m preparing for my fourth and last night of not watching the convention. For your reading enjoyment:

Room rentals, resort fees and furniture removal: How Trump’s company charged the U.S. government more than $900,000. It appears we taxpayers are just one big personal cash cow to the Trumps.

Paul Waldman, The latest chaos at the convention reveals Trump as a miserable failure.

White Supremacist Violence in Kenosha (Updated)

Reports are still coming out, and the headline writers are being cautious. It appears, however, that last night two people were killed and one seriously wounded by a white supremacist “militia” member supposedly trying to “patrol” the protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr.


The shootings came after a confrontation between protesters and armed men who said they were protecting a gas station, witnesses said. Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that police are searching for a man seen in video footage holding a long gun.

“I feel very confident we’ll have him in a very short time,” Beth said.

Shots were fired around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, police said. After the first shots, a young White man carrying a rifle began running north on Sheridan Road, away from a crowd of protesters. Video shows the armed man fall to the ground and then fire multiple rounds into the crowd. Two more people fell to the ground, one shot in the arm and the other in the chest, the Journal Sentinel reported. Another graphic video shows a man with blood running down the back of his neck and bystanders shouting that he had been shot in the head.

WaPo is being cautious and not giving descriptions of anyone. The not-exactly-mainstream media is identifying the shooter as a very white teenager, who may or may not have been affiliated with a white militia group that has been “patrolling” Kenosha this week. But at this point, caution is required. I am not comfortable going any further identifying a perp until we get more solid sourcing.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

[Kenosha County Sheriff David] Beth said people who fashion themselves as belonging to a militia have been patrolling Kenosha’s streets in recent nights, but he did not know if the shooter was involved with such a group.

“They’re a militia,” Beth said. “They’re like a vigilante group.”

On Tuesday, a group calling itself the Kenosha Guard, asked members and followers on Facebook to come downtown and be prepared to defend the city.

One post read: “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend out (sic) City tonight from the evil thugs? Nondoubt (sic) they are currently planning on the next part of the City to burn tonight!”

A later post, aimed at the Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis, read, in part:

“I ask that you do NOT have your officers tell us to go home under threat of arrest as you have done in the past. We are willing to talk to KPD and open a discussion. It is evident, that no matter how many Officers, deputies, and other law enforcement officers that are here, you will still be outnumbered.”

A Journal Sentinel reporter earlier in the evening observed a group of armed men with long guns standing guard at a dry cleaning business on Sheridan Road near 59th Street, some on the roof.

Police told them to get off the roof and a person shouted back: “Officer, this is our business.” Police did not ultimately order them off the roof.

Facebook has already taken down a “call to arms” event that asked, “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” The event was also being promoted on InfoWars. And Facebook has also taken down the Kenosha Guard account, or else it has gone private.

See also More than 120 photos from Kenosha’s Tuesday protest, from peaceful speeches to deadly end from the Kenosha News.

Update: The white teenager suspected of the shootings in Kenosha last night has been arrested. This is from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

An Illinois man suspected of killing two people and wounding a third during a third night of protests in Kenosha has been arrested and is now jailed in Lake County, Illinois.

Court records show Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged there as a fugitive from justice. That document, reviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he faces a first-degree intentional homicide charge in Kenosha County.

The warrant referenced in Lake County records is not yet listed in Wisconsin online court records. Law enforcement officials have called a news conference for 1 p.m. today in Kenosha to discuss the overnight incident.

Based on Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse would be charged as an adult.

Update: The last thing Kenosha needs is Trump butting in. If Evers really did accept Trump’s “help,” he’s a fool.

Update: Oddly, there is a report from earlier today saying that Gov. Evers turned down federal help from Trump about Kenosha:

“The governor informed [President Trump and Meadows] we’d be increasing Wisconsin National Guard support in Kenosha and therefore would not need federal assistance in response to protests but would welcome additional federal support and resources for our state’s response to COVID-19,” Britt Cudaback, a spokesperson for the governor, said.

Updated: Now there are reports that Trump has authorized sending up to 2000 National Guard from “neighboring states” to Kenosha to “help.” Nobody is saying which states or if Trump has gone through legal procedures to nationalize the Guard. I somehow doubt that Gov. Pritzger of Illinois or Gov. Whitmer of Michigan would have signed off on sending their Guard to Kenosha, unless they got a request from Gov. Evers, not Trump. And maybe they did get a request from Gov. Evers. Nothing is very clear.

It says here, “The president has also authorized up to 200 federal law enforcement officers — FBI, U.S. marshals, etc. — to supply support. The National Guard and federal law enforcement should be arriving by Wednesday night, the official said.” Kenosha is so screwed.
It also says that Gov. Evers had already “authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to help protect critical infrastructure and assist in maintaining public safety and the ability of individuals to peacefully protest in Kenosha County.” There probably wouldn’t be any need for National Guard were it not for the white supremacist militia and boogaloo boys who have flocked to Kenosha with their firearms.
Trump needs to stay out. He is just making things worse, I’m sure.

Kenosha News photo

Did You Hear the One About the Republican Platform?

The punch line is that there is no Republican platform this year. The Republicans didn’t bother with one.

Less than 24 hours before its national convention begins, the Republican National Committee has released a “Resolution Regarding the Republican Party Platform” explaining its decision not to draft a new party platform this year. It’s a remarkable document and well worth reading in full—which isn’t a very big lift, since the whole thing is less than half the length of the table of contents of the 2020 Democratic Party Platform. The gist is that the Republicans won’t be able to have a full meeting of the convention’s platform committee thanks to COVID-19, but there’s no need for an updated platform spelling out Republican positions this year, since the party intends to “enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

Somehow, the Democrats managed to come up with a platform, and the Democrats are doing a better job with the social distancing thing also.

On its face, the RNC’s resolution supporting whatever the president wants to do looks like a full-throated embrace of the Führerprinzip—and that’s certainly how it’s been received—but there’s a little more to it than that: It also excoriates the media for having “outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform.” So as not to outrageously misrepresent any implications, here’s what happened. On June 10, the RNC’s executive committee voted to adopt the 2016 Republican platform unchanged, a decision that lasted two days before their presidential candidate blundered into the conversation:

Trump tweeted that he thought there ought to be a new platform, although a short one. He said nothing about what might be in the platform until the committee adopted its “whatever Trump wants” resolution.

Then the Trump campaign released a bullet list of second-term goals. Most of these are so general as to be meaningless –” Return to Normal in 2021″; “Teach American Exceptionalism”; “Put Patients and Doctors Back in Charge of our Healthcare System.” I don’t think patients and doctors have ever been in charge of our healthcare system, at least since it’s been a “system.” But never mind. It’s a list of bromides with no clues as to how any of these goals might be accomplished. Devil, details, etc.

And for the record, here is the 2020 Democratic Party platform, all 92 pages of it.

One suspects the real reason why the Republicans have no platform is not that it was too challening to hold committee meetings. It’s because it’s too difficult to commit to anything more complicted than a carry-out pizza order with Trump in charge. Given his mercurial, um, thought processes, it’s impossible for the GOP to commit to any path or plan to do anything.

Do see Tim Alberta, at Politico, The Grand Old Meltdown. Alberta interviewed some long-time Republican operatives about the sudden lack of anything to put into a platform. What do Republicans want in a government? What do they believe? And the operatives had no answers. Even Frank Luntz was reduced to despair.

When I pressed, Luntz sounded as exasperated as the student whose question I was relaying. “Look, I’m the one guy who’s going to give you a straight answer. I don’t give a shit—I had a stroke in January, so there’s nothing anyone can do to me to make my life suck,” he said. “I’ve tried to give you an answer and I can’t do it. You can ask it any different way. But I don’t know the answer. For the first time in my life, I don’t know the answer.”

Another response:

“Owning the libs and pissing off the media,” shrugs Brendan Buck, a longtime senior congressional aide and imperturbable party veteran if ever there was one. “That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”

Alberto concludes,

It can now safely be said, as his first term in the White House draws toward closure, that Donald Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Filling the vacuum is a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from that lowest common denominator Sanford alluded to. If it agitates the base, if it lights up a Fox News chyron, if it serves to alienate sturdy real Americans from delicate coastal elites, then it’s got a place in the Grand Old Party.

I have some quibbles with some of Alberto’s characterizations of both Republicans and Democrats, past and present, but this is still an interesting read.

Charles Pierce has some colorful things to say about the Republicans, the GOP un-platform excuse statement, and Trump’s bullet-point list, or “Great Stuff I Plan to Lie About Next Year.” A bit:

(Freed from the obligation of producing a platform, the delegates in Charlotte busied themselves passing resolutions on a number of pressing national talk-radio concerns. It passed a resolution condemning the Southern Poverty Law Center for “putting conservative groups or voices at risk of attack.” It passed another one supporting the continued celebration of Columbus Day, and a third inveighed, “Freedom of speech is trampled on daily with the notions of ‘political correctness,’ the plan to eliminate so-called ‘hate speech,’ and the promotion of a ‘cancel culture,’ which has grown into erasing of history.” I’m surprised they didn’t include a commercial for auto-glass replacement or male enhancement potions, followed by a resolution announcing Traffic On The Threes.)

This is an altogether remarkable political document, at least in my experience. Platforms are generally written to be ignored, but this is different. This is a loyalty oath to a government of witchcraft, a pledge of allegiance to the flag of unreason. And what will open on our various screens on Monday night will tax the ability of the media and all the rest of us to cling to reality as though our kayak has capsized in rock-strewn rapids. It will be a severe test of our ability to recognize what is right in front of our eyes. It well may be one of the last chances we have.

Speaking of Republicans tender concerns for freedom of speech and disdain for “cancel culture,” whatever that is, note that the very Republican state of Tennessee just passed a bill that limits a right to protest.

Protesters in Tennessee who break certain laws during demonstrations will now face harsher penalties, including losing the right to vote.

Gov. Bill Lee signed into law on Thursday a bill that stiffens penalties for protesters. House Bill 8005, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, House Republican Majority Leader, went into effect immediately.

Camping on state property such as the Capitol was previously a misdemeanor. It will now be classified as a Class E felony punishable by one to six years in prison. Convicted felons also lose the right to vote and carry a gun.

The law also criminalized marking with chalk on a government building and introduced mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain crimes.

So in Tennessee, if you engage in free speech you must do it in a neat and non-obtrusive way, or no vote for you!

CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 21: on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party’s nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Trump Reelection Campaign Begins Its Third (at Least) Reboot

One might say the Trump campaign has been in perpetual reboot mode all summer. Reboot 1.0 was supposed to be the June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as described in Trump seeks campaign reboot with Tulsa rally.

President Trump is framing a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday as a reset after a punishing several months that saw a global pandemic, nationwide protests over racism and policing, Supreme Court setbacks and a scathing tell-all book by his former national-security adviser.

“My campaign hasn’t started yet. It starts on Saturday night in Oklahoma!” Mr. Trump wrote Friday on Twitter as he dismissed poor poll numbers and Democratic attack ads.

The rally is Mr. Trump’s first since the coronavirus closed the country in early March, upending a hot economy he had hoped would carry him to a second term. After having implored states to reopen — in defiance of some public-health experts — he is looking for rejuvenation in the tens of thousands of people who are descending on Tulsa for an event the campaign has branded a “Great American Comeback.”

You’ll probably remember the rally turned into the Great American Fizzle.

In July Trump engaged in what might be called a rolling reboot, or a series of mini-reboots, to begin on July 10 with a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The rally was canceled at the last minute. See Storm Clouds Hang Over Trump’s Attempted Campaign Reboot.

Friday was supposed to be the day President Donald Trump’s campaign reboot itself got a reboot. Instead, it hit another snag.

Amid uncertainty over whether he can still draw big and enthusiastic crowds to his signature rallies in the coronavirus era, Trump postponed a planned Saturday rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, citing a tropical storm expected to hit a swath of the Eastern United States.

The rally was not rescheduled. Make of that what you will.

On July 15, Trump replaced campaign manager Brad Parscale with Bill Stepien, who unlike Parscale had actually been a campaign manager before. Stepien had previously worked for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and was a big player in the Fort Lee – George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, which ought to make him a good fit with Trump. See also Paul Waldman, Trump reshuffles his campaign. If only he could reshuffle himself.

Olivia Nuzzi has a great in-depth look at the firing of Pascale, the promotion of Stepien, and other details from Reboot 2.1. See The Most Tremendous Reelection Campaign in American History Ever: Inside the chaotic, desperate, last-minute Trump 2020 reboot. at New York magazine. Here are lots of juicy details about Parscale, Stepien, Jared Kushner, and other Team Trump insiders. There is also a fascinating section abou the Trump ground game.

I was looking for the ground game. Have you heard about it? The campaign says it’s the greatest ground game to ever exist, that while you don’t see enthusiasm for the president reflected in the rigged polls, you do see it when you talk to his real supporters where they live in Real America. In fact, they talk about surveys of enthusiasm not just as though they are more reliable than real polls but as though they are the polls — as though the traditional kind simply don’t exist, or matter. I drove across the country last month, and I saw only two signs for Joe Biden the entire way. Is this meaningful? The Trump campaign is hoping that it is. In Pennsylvania, they’re making calls and knocking on doors — a million a week — powered by more than 1.4 million volunteers. Pennsylvania is uniquely important. Rural voters won the state for Trump by less than one percentage point in the last election. This time, Trump is behind Biden by a lot. To close the gap, the campaign says it’s hosting dozens of events here — more than in any other state. But good luck finding them.

Ms. Nuzzi went to several announced Trump training events and found them either unattended or nonexistent. In one case, the staff cleaning a venue — which was closed — hadn’t been told of the event. Even so, The Hill reported this on August 10:

Trump’s campaign has been plowing its money into field staff and ramping up in-person voter contacts. Despite the pandemic, field staffers knocked on 1 million doors across 23 states last week. ,,,

… “We have the biggest and best ground game operation ever seen,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “Because of our permanent presence in these states and a data-driven approach to our outreach, we’ve built lasting relationships with voters on the ground that will power President Trump to victory in November.”

The Biden campaign decided that in-person campaigning during a pandemic is a bad idea. We’ll see how this works out.

But back to the July rebooting, and Reboot 2.2. You may have missed it, but on July 21 Trump rebooted The Trump Show, also known as the coronavirus briefing, which had been suspended in April after the especially memorable disinfectant episode. See Trump Reboots Virus Briefings With Warning and a Shift in Tone. This was billed as a new season of the Trump Show, but as far as I can tell the new season was canceled after just two episodes.

On July 30 Stepien announced a six-day pause of Trump’s television ads. Let’s call it Reboot 2.3. Greg Sargent wrote,

On Thursday, news organizations reported the Trump campaign was temporarily suspending its ads to review messaging and strategy. This was widely treated as a reboot, one rooted in a recognition that, with Trump sinking behind presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a new approach was needed.

As one senior Trump campaign official told The Post: “We’ll be back on the air shortly, even more forcefully exposing Joe Biden as a puppet of the radical left wing.”

Well, now the Trump campaign has just rolled out a new ad attacking Biden, reports ABC News’s Will Steakin.

Since Sargent’s column is dated July 31, I assume this means the six-day pause only took a day.  Sargent notes that the new ad appears indistinguishable from the old ones, except maybe for being more hysterical.

This takes us to August 1, the day WaPo published an analysis headlined Trump’s campaign in crisis as aides attempt August reset before time runs out. “With the president unable to hold traditional rallies and his central economic message no longer relevant, campaign officials are scrambling to assemble a fresh case for his candidacy on the fly,” it says. As if the campaign hadn’t been in crisis mode since Tulsa, if not earlier.

Well, they’ve been working on the “fresh case.” Do they have one? Tomorrow the RNC convention begins, and headlines are calling it a Trump Campaign Reboot. We’ll call it Reboot 3.0. See Trump looks to Republican convention for campaign reboot.

Republicans will open their national convention Monday with an urgent mission: To convince voters pessimistic about the state of a country battered by the novel coronavirus, economic recession and racial upheaval that President Trump deserves four more years at the helm.

See also the Times of Israel, With this week’s Republican convention, Trump looks for campaign reboot.

Republicans will aim to recast the story of Donald Trump’s presidency when they hold their national convention this week, featuring speakers drawn from everyday life as well as cable news and the White House while drawing a stark contrast with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump is looking to shift his campaign away from being a referendum on a presidency ravaged by a pandemic and economic collapse and toward a choice between vastly different visions of America’s future. Reshaping the national conversation around the race has taken on greater urgency for Trump, who trails in public and private surveys as the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation’s economy and his reelection chances.

In other words, Trump thinks it is unfair that his great record was marred by the virus and stuff, and he thinks he should be judged by what a great job he was doing when there were no crises going on. He is also desperate to change the election away from a referendum on his performance and instead make it a contrast about who will do a better job in the future, him or Joe Biden, assuming there are no more crises. Those are so unfair.

From what I can tell from news stories, the Trump immediate family will be taking up about half of the speaker time. Trump plans to speak all four nights.

Echoing a framing pushed by many Trump allies in recent days, Miller called the Democratic Convention a “massive grievance-fest” and said the president would deliver a “great, uplifting message,” teasing speakers who “you would not expect to be supporters of the president.”

Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller said Sunday that President Trump plans to speak all four nights at the Republican Convention, which he said will be “very optimistic and upbeat,” in rebuttal to the past week’s Democratic Convention.

Remember, this is Trump’s idea of “upbeat”:

There’s a lineup of speakers at Talking Points Memo. This is grim stuff; I’m seeing names like Matt Gaetz, Jim I AM NOT SCREAMING Jordan, and Kellyanne Conway. The snotty MAGA hat kid, Nicholas Sandmann, is speaking Tuesday. Oddly, I’m seeing no mention of the McCloskeys, even though they were widely publicized as being speakers.

I’m with Paul Waldman; they can reboot every day from now until November. As long as Trump is the candidate, it’s still the same old campaign.

Well, there’s always Netflix. Netflix is running one of my favorite chick flicks, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. Recommended. I see they’ve also got V for Vendetta and Springstein on Broadway. I’m sure there are other upbeat things on the teevee this week.

Ask What Your Country Can Do For You. Please.

I direct your attention to this video from the Re-elect Ed Markey to the Senate campaign.

This is a terrific video, and if I lived in Massachusetts I bet it would persuade me to vote for Markey. Well, that and the fact that Nancy Pelosi has endorsed his opponent, Joe Kennedy III. What happened to favoring incumbents, Nancy?

At the end, Markey says, “With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.” Amen.

Annie Lowrey discusses The Lessons Americans Never Learn at The Atlantic. This is about the way Americans have been conditioned to not ask anything of their own government. It begins:

Across the country, parents are using Facebook to form “pandemic pods,” hiring tutors or out-of-work teachers to educate their kids as school district after school district announces that it will go partially or fully virtual. Beloved mom-and-pop stores are flooding sites such as GoFundMe to seek support from their sheltered-in-place patrons. Sick people are relying on COVID-19 relief funds and hospital-bill crowdfunding campaigns. And civic entrepreneurs are forming organizations that buy meals from down-on-their-luck restaurants and ferry them to exhausted essential workers.

These developments are a sign of American ingenuity. They are a measure of American community and can-do spirit, unleashed by social media and digital organizing. They are also a tragedy. The United States is forcing its citizens to bootstrap their way through a global catastrophe, saddling traumatized families with the burden of public administration and amplifying the country’s inequalities.

In functioning high-income countries, the government guarantees the provision of essential goods and services: medical care, transit between cities, supplies for public schools, financial support to weather a period of unemployment. But here, the government often fails to provide them. Need gives birth to invention, as well as deprivation.


John Kennedy’s famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” was delivered in 1961, a time when veterans of World War II pretty much ran the country. The Greatest Generation sacrificed a lot, but it also received a lot, both from the New Deal — which hadn’t been dismantled yet — and the GI bill. In the 1960s the American middle class still benefited from the Great Compression, a time in our economic history with the least economic inequality.  Most economists will tell you the Great Compression ended in the 1970s. Real wages — meaning, wages adjusted for cost of living — for U.S. workers peaked in 1972 and have been stagnant or declining since. What wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the top 10 percent of earners. And the gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us gets bigger and bigger.

And through the years we’ve all been conditioned to patch together our own safety nets. Even many of the “safety nets” that government hasn’t killed entirely are designed to not work and thereby frustrate and discourage people trying to use them; see, for example, unemployment compensation.

Back to Annie Lowrey

Long before 2020, many Americans were in the position of patching their own safety net and acting as their own city hall. They sought computers, crayons, and paper for elementary-school classrooms through online campaigns. They fell back on crowdfunding sites after a car accident, an appendectomy, a fight with cancer, a premature birth. They used ride-sharing when the bus never came.

Now the pandemic has shredded the country’s education infrastructure, decimated its network of child-care providers, eliminated millions of low-income jobs, forced the closure of hundreds of thousands of small businesses, and killed 170,000 people and counting. Thousands of people on the verge of eviction, thousands of businesses on the verge of bankruptcy, thousands of parents desperate for someone to watch their kids are turning to friends, family, and strangers on the internet for help.

Good ol’ American ingenuity.

America insists on repeating this lesson over and over and over again, never really learning it: No amount of private initiative or donor generosity can or will ever do what the government can. First, individuals, nonprofits, and companies simply don’t have the resources to provide public services at scale. A majority of GoFundMes do not reach their stated fundraising goal, with many never raising any money at all. Despite all those campaigns to save restaurants and bars, Yelp reported that 140,000 businesses listed on its service have closed since the pandemic recession started, many never to reopen; saving them would likely have required billions of dollars. Americans rack up nearly $90 billion in medical debt every year, more than twice the amount given to health-related charities.

Second, household income, charitable giving, business profits, and corporate investment all tend to be cyclical phenomena. When the economy collapses, they collapse. If the mill in a mill city shuts down, for instance, the city’s schools lose financing, its citizens lose their health insurance, its local nonprofits see a drop in donations, and its businesses see their turnover erode, all at once. Everybody has greater needs when everybody has less to give. Not so for the federal government, which runs a deficit in good times and a much bigger one in bad times. Its job is to flood individuals, businesses, and nonprofits with cash when an economic catastrophe hits. When it does not do that, other entities cannot bridge the macroeconomic gap.

How many times have we heard “conservatives” argue that government “welfare” programs should be scrapped and replaced by private charity? And how many column inches, how much bandwidth, has been given to patient explanations why that won’t work? Yet the argument never dies. This is by Mike Konczal, from 2014:

This vision has always been implicit in the conservative ascendancy. It existed in the 1980s, when President Reagan announced, “The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern,” and called for voluntarism to fill in the yawning gaps in the social safety net. It was made explicit in the 1990s, notably through Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion, a treatise hailed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and William Bennett, which argued that a purely private nineteenth-century system of charitable and voluntary organizations did a better job providing for the common good than the twentieth-century welfare state. This idea is also the basis of Paul Ryan’s budget, which seeks to devolve and shrink the federal government at a rapid pace, lest the safety net turn “into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” It’s what Utah Senator Mike Lee references when he says that the “alternative to big government is not small government” but instead “a voluntary civil society.”

You might not remember this, but when Homeland Security and especially FEMA — staffed by amateur political appointees at the time — failed so miserably to respond to Hurricane Katrina, some of the Fox News bobbleheads were actually calling for entirely voluntary responses to natural disasters. I imagined being trapped under the unstable rubble of some collapsed building, surrounded by loose electrical wire, toxic chemicals, and rising water. Who do I want to rescue me? Professionals with special training and equipment? Or the Methodist Ladies Bible Study Circle?

The problem with emergency response is that one doesn’t need emergency responders all the time, so it’s all too tempting to balance that budget by cutting emergency preparedness, including pandemic preparedness, thinking that we can put something together when we need it. But that doesn’t work. We keep being taught how that doesn’t work, and we don’t learn. And do read Mike Konzcal’s piece for all the reasons private charity can’t replace government programs.

Back to Annie Lowrey:

Third, asking individuals to rely on themselves, their families, and their networks when trouble hits does not just reinforce existing disparities; it widens them, often along class, racial, and geographic lines. Consider how PTAs have become not just nice ways for parents to become involved in their children’s schools, but crass amplifiers of educational inequality. Parents in rich zip codes raise money for telescopes and enrichment classes, all the while refusing to redistribute desperately needed cash to schools in poorer zip codes.

And the kids in poorer zip codes need it more. Instead of addressing educational inequality we’ve cooked up charter schools, which often turn into money-sucking boondoggles, and voucher programs, ditto. These programs have been sold to us as ways to provide better education for all children, but we’ve been doing this for several years now, and there’s no clear evidence of that. In some places, voucher students have had worse testing scores than public school students. Not much bang for the buck, I’d say.

But this is part of the conservative belief that you can’t just give money to people. You can’t just invest money into improving public schools, because … . Um, no good reason. You just can’t. Instead, we come up with these Rube Goldberg programs that move funds all over the place (except directly into public schools) so that at least some of it can go into the pockets of a private education industry, and that will fix everything. But it doesn’t.

And for more on all the money wasted on right-wing “social” programs that don’t do anything but waste money, see my 2019 post, “Republican Moral Values.”

Annie Lowrey:

Finally, trying to replace the government with personal initiative requires an impossible amount of energy: raising money for your post-COVID-19 convalescence, working with multiple providers and a Kafkaesque health-payments infrastructure. Setting up a temporary school for your high-needs kid, interviewing teachers and working out payroll on your own. Figuring out how to get an Uber to an infrequent train to an unpredictable bus line to make it to your job. Liaising with dozens of nonprofits to save your restaurant. Searching for a day care, then arranging a nanny-share, then arguing for a reduced-price slot in a nursery school, because the United States has no public child-care and preschool system. It is exhausting.

“Exhausting” is pretty much life in America, even without covid-19. There are too many impediments and complications. Plans don’t work; safety nets collapse. Public transportation, where it exists at all, doesn’t go where you need it to go. You fall and break your leg, but the hospital across the street isn’t in your network, so you don’t dare seek treatment there. You miss work because your day care arrangements fall through. Maybe you lose pay; maybe you lose your job. Everything is always exhausting.

I still feel that I gave up too much of my adult life and spent away any hope of a retirement nest egg putting together day care arrangements for my kids so I could work. That was years ago; nothing has changed.

Taking on the obligation of public administration is a time suck and an attention suck, not just a money suck. And this necessity also, in its own way, amplifies the country’s existing disparities. People who are sick, poor, unemployed—these are the people we task with writing up a heartrending story and going hat-in-hand online. These are the people burdened with performing their trauma to garner support, bringing the public into their cancer journey, explaining what eviction and homelessness has meant, begging for someone to help so that they do not have to fire their staff and shut their doors.

The answer that virtually every other rich country has figured out: The government should act like a government, like its job is to provide these things. It should replace people’s income when a recession hits, and help businesses struggling through no fault of their own. It should guarantee simple, affordable access to medical care. It should provide child care and public education for families. And it should invest in trains and buses and classrooms. Fighting recessions and building public infrastructure, including care, health, and educational infrastructure—this should not be the work of citizens. When it is, let’s acknowledge that’s a tragedy.

I think of this tragedy as part of the legacy of Ronald Reagan, although it wasn’t just Reagan. In the years after World War II, the Greatest Generation was fine with getting subsidized mortgages and free college education. People on the whole had no big problem with government programs, as long as middle class white people were the prime beneficiaries. But there was a big shift in attitude during Lyndon Johnson’s administration, because programs he championed gave benefits to everybody. Some programs were even designed to help Black communities. And all of a sudden, all these Greatest Generation white people who were children during the Great Depression and owed their affluent lifestyles to the New Deal and GI Bill decided that government “welfare” programs were evil. Combine that with Cold War hysteria and Friedrich Hayek’s economic theories, and you’ve got a religion that says You people are on your own. Government exists for the military and corporations, not for you. And Reagan rose to glory as the high priest.

To see how deeply entrenched this thinking is, see I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You. by Arlie Russell Hochschild in the September/October 2016 issue of Mother Jones. The subjects are working-class whites in Louisiana, many hanging on economically by their fingernails, who seemed to live with guilt and shame — the guilt of being short of money, the shame associated with “government handouts.” People are supposed to work and take care of themselves. That so many were failing was seen as personal failure, not a societal failure, and certainly not a failure of government. They fail to see that creating an economy that supports their ability to earn a decent living requires government involvement. If you leave everything to the private sector and “free markets,” all but the very wealthy are screwed.

Most other industrialized democracies have figured this out. We have not. And if we don’t figure it out pretty fast, the U.S. is likely to become the planet’s biggest third-world shit hole.

See also my recent post, Missouri and Medicaid, that pointed out how voters in the poorest counties, most of whom have no health insurance, and where hospitals are closing, voted against expanding Medicare. That’s the power of right-wing propaganda for you.

So yeah, the question of our times is, What should our country be doing for us? Promoting the general welfare is what a country, what a government, is for. There is no shame in that.

Is this our past or our future?