Tag Archives: GOP

The New Powerlessness

Conservative pundit Bret Stephens recently had a column in the New York Times, cleverly titled “The Bonfire of the Sanities.”

Like Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” is often cited but less often read, which is a shame because the landmark 1964 essay helps explain our times.

As an example of contemporary paranoia, Stephens recounted a speech in which Senator Ron Johnson had gone full conspiracy theorist, before it turned out that a text message he had found so suspicious was an office in-joke between two FBI agents who were having an affair.  Johnson was also forced to admit he had no idea what a phrase within the message referenced, “not that it prevented him from painting it in the most sinister colors. Maybe there was a scavenger hunt for Hillary’s missing emails.”

I wouldn’t bother posting about this particular bit of GOP embarrassment–it is only one of  many, and Stephens lists several other “breaking news” items that later turned out to be equally bogus, but I was struck by this observation:

None of this would have surprised Hofstadter, whose essay traces the history of American paranoia from the Bavarian Illuminati and the Masons to New Dealers and Communists in the State Department. “I call it the paranoid style,” Hofstadter wrote, “simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.” What better way to describe a Republican Party that thinks America has more to fear from a third-tier F.B.I. agent in Washington who doesn’t like the president than it does from a first-tier K.G.B. agent in Moscow who, for a time at least, liked the president all too well?

Then again, Hofstadter might have been surprised to find that the party of conspiracy is also the party of government. The paranoid style, he noted, was typically a function of powerlessness. “Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed.”

As Stephens points out–and as we all know–the GOP currently controls all three branches of government, and then some: Robert Muller is a Republican. Jeff Sessions is a Republican. Etc. Surely the GOP is not powerless!

Except, it is.

Despite control of the government, the party cannot govern. It cannot head off standoffs like the recent shut-down. When its lawmakers make a deal–like the recent DACA agreement brokered by Lindsay Graham and Dick Durbin–they can’t predict whether their lunatic President will accept it.

Powerlessness, it turns out, is not solely a function of losing elections. There are a lot of reasons for the dysfunction that has turned the federal government into an exaggerated version of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight–this blog has suggested a number of them. And although he has been a mighty contributor to GOP fecklessness, Trump is less a reason than a consequence.

When nothing is working properly, people look for a reason–usually, they look for someone to blame. When there is no one handy, they suspect conspiracies. They develop paranoia.

The principal lesson of paranoia is the ease with which politically aroused people can mistake errors for deceptions, coincidences for patterns, bumbling for dereliction, and secrecy for treachery. True conspiracies are rare but stupidity is nearly universal. The failure to know the difference, combined with the desire for a particular result, is what accounts for the paranoid style.

“Conspiracies are rare but stupidity is nearly universal.” Or, as a friend of mine used to say when we were all in City Hall: incompetence explains so much more than conspiracy.

Random Thoughts/Observations On Government Shutdown

Partisans are playing the blame game–pointing fingers and accusing the “other guy” of being responsible for the government’s inability to function.

It seems fairly obvious to me that those in charge–those in power– are most culpable; with the GOP dominating all three branches of Government, trying to lay the blame at the doorstep of the emasculated Dems reminds me of the divorce lawyer who told the judge that her client’s wife was so annoying, she caused  him to beat her. (That’s a true story, by the way.)

A few scattered observations–

  • it is absolutely unconscionable to use children as bargaining chips and hostages. Republicans’ willingness to keep the “Dreamers” in limbo and hold out funding for children’s health in order to play political games is simply despicable. (It’s also stupid: 87% of Americans want DACA reinstated.)
  • Republicans (and a few Democrats) who were willing to ignore the ongoing anguish of 800,000 DACA children in order to fund government for another couple of weeks were either naive (GOP promises to “get to” DACA “soon” were transparent bullshit–especially since Trump’s uninformed demands change daily) or more concerned about perceived political optics than justice for children who depend upon them.
  • Indiana Senator Donnelly was one of those Democrats. Donnelly has been a constant disappointment: he was willing to defund Planned Parenthood (he evidently believes his religious beliefs deserve government support but mine don’t), and he was willing to screw over the Dreamers, presumably because he is (theoretically) a Democrat running for re-election in a red state. Perhaps I’m the one being naive, but I think voters–red or blue–are more likely to reward principled behavior than political pandering. That said, I will vote for Donnelly in November because–acute disappointment though he is–he will cast his first vote to eject Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) from leadership, and because the Republican Trumpers who want to oppose him are even worse–and in Indiana, a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for the Republican. This will be a “lesser of two evils” choice.
  • If there is a bright spot to the shutdown, it should mean that–at least while government isn’t open for business–the demolition crew that Trump has installed in lieu of competent administrators won’t be able to work on destroying their agencies.

And finally….If we needed any more evidence that the federal government is broken, and that Republicans are disinterested in fixing it, or for that matter, doing anything other than enrich their donors, I think this last year–culminating in this Keystone Kos episode–should provide it.

I know it’s morning, but excuse me while I go pour myself a stiff drink.

 

Telling It Like It Is

Charles Blow has used two of his recent columns in the New York Times to address racism; more specifically, the racism exhibited by Donald Trump and his base.

Although there has been a great deal of ink (or, more properly, pixels) devoted to analysis of the most recent eruption by our Vesuvius in Chief, Blow’s observations are so incisive, so devoid of the unnecessary niceties (typically employed by writers trying desperately to be fair to people undeserving of their solicitude), that they deserve wide distribution.

In the first column–written before the “shithole” eruption–Blow makes an important point about racism and the people who will continue to support Trump no matter how often he betrays his promises to them:

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

The entire column is well worth reading–and pondering. Among other things, it explains Trump’s pathological fixation on erasing anything and everything that Obama did.

Trump supporters love to describe his most vile pronouncements as evidence that he “tells it like it is.” But it is Blow who actually tells it like it is, in the wake of Trump’s “shithole” episode.

He begins with a definition:

Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices.

Blow then points out–as many others have- that Trump fits that definition, that he’s a racist,  a white supremacist, a bigot. (In the same issue of the Times, David Leonhardt provides an exhaustive list of Trump’s blatantly racist statements.) But– as Blow also says– pointing that fact out is the easy part. The need to make his tenure as short as possible is equally obvious.

Most importantly, this November, voters must

rid the House and the Senate of as many of Trump’s defenders, apologists and accomplices as possible. Should the time come where impeachment is inevitable, there must be enough votes in the House and Senate to ensure it.

I am going to bold these next paragraphs, because his point is really important–and because it is insufficiently appreciated:

And finally, we have to stop giving a pass to the people — whether elected official or average voter — who support and defend his racism. If you defend racism you are part of the racism. It doesn’t matter how much you say that you’re an egalitarian, how much you say that you are race blind, how much you say that you are only interested in people’s policies and not their racist polemics.

As the brilliant James Baldwin once put it: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” When I see that in poll after poll a portion of Trump’s base continues to support his behavior, including on race, I can only conclude that there is no real daylight between Trump and his base. They are part of his racism.

When I see the extraordinary hypocrisy of elected officials who either remain silent in the wake of Trump’s continued racist outbursts or who obliquely condemn him, only to in short order return to defending and praising him and supporting his agenda, I see that there is no real daylight between Trump and them either. They too are part of his racism.

When you see it this way, you understand the enormity and the profundity of what we are facing. There were enough Americans who were willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him. There are enough people in Washington willing to accept Trump’s racism to defend him. Not only is Trump racist, the entire architecture of his support is suffused with that racism. Racism is a fundamental component of the Trump presidency.

A commenter to this blog recently protested when I wrote that racism had motivated the majority of Trump voters. I based that statement on research that has emerged since the election, but my youngest son points out that we really don’t need academic researchers to tell us what we all know. Trump’s campaign was unambiguously racist, therefore, those who voted for him fell into one of the only two possible categories: either they responded positively to his racism, or his racism didn’t bother them enough to make them vote for someone else.

As Blow says, there were enough Americans willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him.

As my son says, you are what you are willing to accept.

Just telling it like it is.

 

 

“Pro Life” Really Isn’t

Those of us who champion individual autonomy and the right of a woman to make her own reproductive decisions often point to the hypocrisy of a movement that labels itself “pro life,” but expresses concern only when that “life” precedes birth.

Many of the same people who express touching concern for a blastula or fetus consistently oppose measures to ameliorate threats to the lives and health of the already-born. This disconnect strongly suggests that their real goal is control of women, not protection of life or the unborn.

Well, we have a new bit of evidence strengthening that claim of hypocrisy, and –unsurprisingly–it involves Mike Pence, Indiana’s contribution to the disaster that is the Trump Administration.

A bipartisan effort to stabilize the U.S. health-insurance markets collapsed last month after anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour, The Daily Beast has learned.

Amid opposition from conservatives in the House of Representatives, a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restrictions, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was also in attendance at the Dec. 19 meeting, three of the sources said.

The next day, key lawmakers involved in crafting the legislation announced they were punting on the issue until 2018.

You may be wondering what the stabilization measure–which is intended to prevent thirteen million people from losing their health insurance due to a provision of the tax bill–has to do with abortion. And of course, in a sane world, the answer would be, nothing. But the supposedly “pro-life” activists who met with Pence last month were opposed to the bill because some of the subsidies in the stabilization legislation (known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments) might go to health plans that fund abortions.

This is how Pence’s Party–formerly known as the GOP–protects “life.”

These lawmakers are willing to see thirteen million Americans lose their health insurance if that’s what it takes to prevent private-sector insurance companies from covering abortions (many of which are medically indicated in order to save the life or health of the mother).

There are numerous studies which estimate the number of deaths that are a direct consequence of lack of health insurance.

A 2012 familiesUSA study shows that more than 130,000 Americans died between 2005 and 2010 because of their lack of health insurance. The number of deaths due to a lack of coverage averaged three per hour and the issue plagued every state. Other studies have shown those statistics to be high or low, but all studies agree: In America the uninsured are more likely to die than those with insurance.

So how, exactly, is blocking a measure that would prevent these very predictable deaths “pro life”? Elevating the value of the unborn over the value of existing men, women and children isn’t “pro life”–even if you believe that human life begins at the very instant that a sperm and egg unite–it is rather obviously “pro fetal life.”

More accurately, it’s a war on women’s autonomy. And like all wars, it will take the lives of many innocent, already-born people.

There are certainly people who are truly pro-life. They oppose abortion–but they also oppose the death penalty. They support full funding for CHIP.  They support programs to feed hungry children.

Fanatics like Pence aren’t pro-life in any meaningful sense. They are anti-women and pro-paternalism.

One Year Later, Same Song

A few days ago, I shared some observations from abroad about the importance of democratic norms. As JoAnn recently reminded me, almost exactly a year ago–early in January, before Trump was inaugurated–I had used an essay by Fareed Zakaria to offer similar cautions.

Zakaria warned about the prospect of what he called “illiberal democracy”–countries where people voted for leadership, but ignored the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law. Those regimes allowed the marginalization and oppression of minorities. They failed to protect freedom of the press. In other words, they were “democratic” only in the sense that they retained the franchise.

In my opinion, the “money quote” from Zakaria was this one:

What stunned me as this process unfolded was that laws and rules did little to stop this descent. Many countries had adopted fine constitutions, put in place elaborate checks and balances, and followed best practices from the advanced world. But in the end, liberal democracy was eroded anyway. It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.

In the year since I commented on Zakaria’s observation, I have had many opportunities–too many–to report on the waning of those norms in the United States.

In the wake of the publication of Fire and Fury, amid all the consternation about Trump’s obvious mental incapacities, a friend made a point we too often miss: the problem isn’t Donald Trump, pathetic and ignorant and corrupt as he is. The problem isn’t even the American electorate– after all, as pundits routinely remind us, candidates other than Trump got 11 million more votes than he did. Clinton garnered three million more, and the rest were scattered among third and fourth-party candidates. He wasn’t exactly “the people’s” choice.

So what is our problem? I submit it is the behavior of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Not just McConnell and Ryan–although McConnell, especially, gets my vote for “most evil man in America”– but their obedient armies. Today’s Republican Senators and Representatives (and probably several Democrats, although they’ve had no opportunity to exhibit their version of bad behavior) have willingly abandoned those essential small-d democratic norms; they have traded them for partisan advantage.

Today’s Congressional Republicans consistently and routinely elevate party over country.

Yes, Donald Trump is an embarrassment and a danger. Yes, the Electoral College is an anachronism that has outlived any utility it ever had. Yes, the millions who did cast ballots based upon fear, ignorance and racial resentment share culpability. But the real “villains” of this sad story are the Republicans serving in what is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government who have abandoned even the pretense of statesmanship.

If those Republicans survive the midterms, American democracy (at least, as we’ve known it) won’t.