The Ultimate Entitlement

A couple of weeks ago, Michelle Goldberg used her column in the New York Times to focus on the ultimate sense of entitlement displayed by a subset of wealthy white guys–a subset that includes Donald Trump. These men believe they are entitled to take what they want–including but not limited to sexual gratification– without regard for the consequences to others.

The arrogant expression of entitlement has been a prominent feature of accounts relayed by the twenty-two women who have accused Trump of sexual assault and/or rape.

As details emerge about the sordid behavior of Jeffrey Epstein, it is worth pointing out–as Goldberg does–that until a falling-out, Trump and Epstein were buddies.

Epstein, indicted on charges of abusing and trafficking underage girls, was a friend of Trump’s until the two had a falling out, reportedly over a failed business deal. The New York Times reported on a party Trump threw at Mar-a-Lago whose only guests were him, Epstein and around two dozen women “flown in to provide the entertainment.”

It isn’t only Epstein. Goldberg has a list.

There’s Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who was recently charged in a prostitution sting.  There’s Steve Bannon, who was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness;  Bill Shine, hired by Trump after he was forced from Fox News during  the Fox sexual harassment scandals; former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left after both his ex-wives accused him of abuse; speechwriter David Sorensen, who resigned after his ex-wife reported his violence toward her.

And who can forget Elliott Broidy, Trump pal and Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, who resigned last year after media reports that he’d paid $1.6 million in hush money to a former playboy model who said he’d abused her and paid for her an abortion after he got her pregnant.

The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the R.N.C.’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex.

In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then The Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigationinto Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.

And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press.

As Goldberg notes–and we’ve all seen– Trump’s first instinct these behaviors become public is empathy. For the entitled abuser.

In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.

Epstein is simply the latest specimen to emerge from what Goldberg accurately calls “the depraved milieu from which the president sprang.”

The accusations against Trump–and his “access Hollywood” admissions– have encouraged media attention to the operation and assumptions of that “depraved milieu” –and disclosed the smug entitlement of the men who occupy its bubble of wealth and privilege. In their twisted worldviews, women (and for those like Epstein, female children) exist only to satisfy their urges.  Women who aren’t compliant deserve physical abuse.

This is an entitled worldview that goes well beyond misogyny. It’s horrifying.

Republicans Ask: Should The Majority Rule?

Last month, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to protect its previously articulated principle of “one person, one vote” by limiting the degree to which Congressional districts can be dishonestly drawn, Talking Points Memo published an essay about the GOP’s embrace of an explicitly anti-democratic philosophy.

Josh Marshall identified the issue, and emphasized that it is separate from the Founders’ well-documented concern about the “passions of the majority.”

Much of American constitutionalism is bound up with protecting the rights of minorities against untrammeled majorities. Here though, I’m focused on something distinct and separate: the creation of anti-majoritarian ideologies, fully articulated arguments for why democratic majorities should not in fact, as a matter of principle, hold political power.

Marshall quotes Scott Walker, the former (sleazy) governor of Wisconsin, who now heads up a GOP committee defending gerrymandering (because of course he does); Walker claims that what Democrats call “fair” maps aren’t really fair because they advantage urban areas where more voters live. He argues that counting each vote equally gives urban areas “too large an influence.”

This is a bracingly candid statement of the position: We need to reevaluate how we define “fair”. Because if “fair” means whoever gets the most votes (i.e., proportional representation) then Republicans are at an inherent disadvantage “because of their national popular vote edge.” I don’t think my explication really goes beyond Walker’s statement really at all: what Democrats call “fair” is the candidate with the most votes winning.

As Marshall says,

Beyond the opportunism and the fact that city vs non-city has a deeply racial dimension, at a basic level Walker wants to see city and non-city as two contending entities which deserve to contend on equal terms. But of course these concepts, city and non-city or city and rural areas have no existence in American law. Nor does the idea even have a factual grounding. There are plenty of Republicans in cities and Democrats outside the cities. It is simply a broad brush way of capturing a political division in American society which Walker – and a growing number of Republicans – has formalized to explain why laws and districts should be changed to ensure that his preferred candidates win even when they get fewer votes.

Given the fact that twice in the last 16 years, the candidate who lost the popular vote–in the case of Trump, massively–became President, Americans have increasingly focused on the anti-democratic elements of our Constitutional system.

Thanks to the Electoral College, and population shifts over time, it currently takes four urban votes to equal three rural votes.

The composition of the Senate is equally undemocratic: every state has two Senators, irrespective of the state’s population. Today, a majority of Americans live in nine states that collectively have 18 votes in the Senate. The rest of the country–with a minority of the population– has 82.

These anti-democratic elements have been around a long time. What’s new, as Marshall points out, is that “the big state/small state divide has seldom lined up so clearly with the broader partisan division in the country.

All of this is part of the central dynamic of our time: Republicans increasingly turning against majority rule and a widely shared franchise because majorities, when not sliced up into gerrymandered districts or state borders, increasingly favor Democrats. That’s why we have voter ID laws. It’s why we have resistance to early voting, felon voting and basically everything else that doesn’t keep the voting electorate as small as old and as white as possible. Most of these strategies have focused on things like election security, or cost or convenience or whipped up fears about voter fraud. But that’s starting to change. The explicit embrace of special advantages for Republicans outside major urban concentrations, the explicit embrace of majority rule not being the essence of electoral fairness, is coming to the fore.

Defenders of anti-majoritarianism protest that we are not and never have been a democracy; we are a representative republic. That’s accurate as far as it goes. Certainly, as Marshall notes, the Founders had a well-grounded concern that minority rights would suffer if popular majorities were left unrestrained. Even if we must close our eyes to some of the less laudable concerns that prompted creation of the Electoral College and the composition of the Senate, the protection of minority opinion justifies a degree of anti-majoritarianism.

The question is: how much?

The tension between individual rights and majority passions–the need to find the proper balance between the two– has been a constant theme throughout American history.

Too much majoritarianism threatens individual rights. Too little–as when a minority is empowered to elect candidates rejected by the majority– threatens government legitimacy.

Persistent rule by the minority is an invitation to revolution.

 

 

 

Ethics–Dan Coats’ Fatal Flaw

According to Axios, Trump is planning to dump Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence.

President Trump has told confidants he’s eager to remove Dan Coats as director of national intelligence, according to five sources who have discussed the matter directly with the president.

The state of play: Trump hasn’t told our sources when he plans to make a move, but they say his discussions on the topic have been occurring for months — often unprompted — and the president has mentioned potential replacements since at least February. A source who spoke to Trump about Coats a week ago said the president gave them the impression that the move would happen “sooner rather than later.”

Despite finding him personally pleasant, I have never been a fan of Dan Coats, for reasons  not relevant to his performance in his current position. I always saw him as a nice enough man with whom I had substantial policy disagreements. A co-worker of mine said it best, many years ago, when Coats was first running for Senate: “I’d vote for him for neighbor, but not Senator.”

In the Age of Trump, however, Coats has been a star of sorts– an ethical standout among the swamp creatures that populate this appalling administration. Unlike Bob Barr, he hasn’t twisted facts to fit a political agenda. Unlike those on Trump’s Cabinet, he isn’t trying to destroy the agency he leads. Unlike the feckless Senate Republicans, he hasn’t remained silent when the President’s lies have misrepresented reality.

According to Axios

The big picture: Coats has rankled Trump more than once with his public comments, according to sources with direct knowledge.

He angered Trump when he appeared to criticize the president’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an on-stage interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at last year’s Aspen Security Forum.

He drew Trump’s ire again in January when he told a Senate panel that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons, contradicting the president’s cheerier assessments.

There have been unsubstantiated reports that Coats previously had to be talked out of resigning; whatever the accuracy of those rumors, he has responded to what appears to be an intentional leak aimed at undercutting his effectiveness:

In a statement provided by the ODNI, Coats said, “I am focused on doing my job, and it is frustrating to repeatedly be asked to respond to anonymous sources and unsubstantiated, often false rumors that undercut the critical work of the Intelligence Community and its relationship with the President. I am proud to lead an IC singularly focused on the vital mission of providing timely and unbiased intelligence to President Trump, Vice President Pence and the national security team in support of our nation’s security.”

Trump has made it quite clear that he has no interest in the receipt of “timely and unbiased intelligence,” and that he sees no value in the ODNI itself.

As usual, Juanita Jean’s blog had the best snark:

Trump is now saying that he’s eager to fire Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, then eliminate the position altogether.  That fits, right?  Because if there is one word that doesn’t describe Trump, it’s intelligence.

So true.

 

 

The Disaster That Is Betsy DeVos

There’s a reason that living under the Trump Administration is so exhausting;  citizens don’t know where to look first. We wake every morning with the same question: which of Trump’s incompetent/corrupt Cabinet members is doing the most damage today?

The EPA is headed by a former coal lobbyist who is busy eviscerating environmental protections. The  Secretary of the Treasury is refusing to honor a request for Trump’s taxes, despite a statute that specifically requires him to do so. At Commerce, Wilbur Ross was (fortunately) too incompetent to follow the rules for adding questions to the Census. Mike Pompeo is using the State Department to further fundamentalist Christian interests. Alex Acosta has joined the exodus of Trump Administration officials ousted for improper/corrupt behaviors….

And speaking of corrupt, don’t get me started about William Barr.

However, we can’t allow these scandals to obscure Betsy DeVos and her continuing effort to cripple the Department of Education and sabotage public education.

Recently, DeVos installed Diane Jones, a veteran of “for-profit organizations that operate low-quality education programs,” as chief architect of her education policy.

“President Trump’s Department of Education is stacked with former for-profit executives whose companies got rich by ripping students off,” said Charisma L. Troiano, the press secretary for Democracy Forward, a government watchdog organization that has accused Ms. Jones of several conflicts of interest. “For decades, Diane Auer Jones has advocated for this predatory industry.” (Link unavailable)

DeVos  is the first Secretary of Education to come to that post having zero experience with public schools. She has never worked in a public school, has never been a teacher, a school administrator, nor a member of a public board of education. Not only that, she didn’t attend public schools herself, and she didn’t send her children to public schools. In Michigan, she’d been an implacable foe of public education and a generous funder of vouchers and for-profit charters.

When she was nominated for the position, the Washington Post ran an article titled “A sobering look at what Betsy DeVos did to education in Michigan.” It documented the troubling decline in student achievement in the private and religious schools she supported.

Her confirmation hearings were a disaster, revealing her monumental ignorance of DOE’s mission and legal responsibilities, and lack of familiarity with important education policies. It took Mike Pence’s vote to confirm her–the first time in history a Vice-President had to cast a deciding vote for a cabinet nominee.

And what has she done since she was (barely) confirmed?

  • rolled back protections for transgendered students.
  • proposed a nine billion dollar cut in education funding
  • repealed federal protections against predatory for-profit colleges
  • rescinded college-level sexual assault guidelines
  • stripped DOE employees of collective bargaining rights
  • endorsed a plan to place guns in schools, and to purchase them with federal grant money intended for academics and student enrichment
  • eviscerated the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows public workers to apply for forgiveness of their student loans after 10 years of service and on-time loan payments.
  • pushed to expand federal vouchers by $50 billion dollars over ten years
  • refused–and  continues to refuse–to enforce laws requiring that federally funded services be provided only by public employees or by contractors independent of private schools and religious organizations. (It is unprecedented for a federal agency to announce it won’t enforce the law as written.)

There’s more at the link.

Even if Democrats sweep this abysmal crew out in the 2020 elections, it will take decades to repair the damage.

It turns out that handing the government over to people who know absolutely nothing–either about government in general or the work they are being asked to do in particular–is a really bad idea.

2020–A Vote On America’s Original Sin

I want to elaborate on yesterday’s post.

It has been fascinating–and infinitely depressing–to follow the reactions to Trump’s racist rants on Facebook and in the Twitter-verse. I’ve been particularly struck by comments defending him and insisting that his attacks “weren’t racist”–that he was just “expressing his opinion,” perhaps inartfully.

Right.

And Bill Barr’s refusal to indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death–despite DOJ lawyers’ contrary’ recommendation– wasn’t another not-so-subtle message to Trump’s white supremicist base.  Kellyann Conway’s response to a Jewish reporter’s question with a demand to know his “ethnicity,” was just an innocent question. And the troglodytes at Trump’s North Carolina rally chanting “send her back” were just patriotic Americans.

Nothing to see here.

We all know better. Those MAGA caps might just as well say what they have always implied: Make America White Again.

Yesterday, I characterized the upcoming election as a contest for the soul of America. Let me enlarge on that assertion: 2020 will force America to confront the country’s “original sin”–the persistent racism that once allowed some people to own others, that reacted to emancipation with segregation and Jim Crow, and that has responded to every movement toward civic equality by  doubling down on racist rhetoric and discriminatory behavior.

With the ascension of Donald Trump, the GOP has stopped denying its “southern strategy,”  abandoned its dog whistles, and publicly embraced white nationalism.

Denying Trump’s racism requires deliberately ignoring his long and consistent history of racist behavior, a history that David Leonhardt laid out in a recent New York Times newsletter.

His real estate company tried to avoid renting apartments to African-American tenants. He described “laziness” as “a trait in blacks.” He called for five black and Latino teenagers to be executed — and then insisted on their guilt even after DNA evidence proved their innocence.

He rose to prominence in the Republican Party by questioning the citizenship of the first black president. He launched his presidential campaign by saying Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” His political organization created a television advertisement that Fox News pulled for being too racist.

He frequently criticizes prominent African-Americans for being unpatriotic, ungrateful, disrespectful or unintelligent. He mocks Native Americans and uses anti-Semitic stereotypes. He retweets white nationalists. He said that a violent white supremacist march included some “very fine people.” He regularly appoints people with a history of racist comments.

And over the weekend, he told four nonwhite members of Congress — all citizens, of course, and three of them born in the United States — to “go back” to where they came from.

President Trump doesn’t just make racist comments. He is a racist. He’s proven it again and again, over virtually his entire time as a public figure. His bigotry is a core part of his worldview, and it’s been central to his political rise.

Paul Krugman didn’t mince words either.

In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political operative, explained to an interviewer how his party had learned to exploit racial antagonism using dog whistles. “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’” But by the late 1960s, “that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

Well, the dog whistle days are over. Republicans are pretty much back to saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”

What voters need to understand in the run-up to 2020 is that it isn’t just Trump.

Krugman points to the silence of prominent Republicans in the wake of Trump’s most recent racist outburst, to the administration’s dishonest conflation of immigration and crime, and to a proclamation just signed by the Republican governor of Tennessee honoring Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners and helped found the Ku Klux Klan. I’ll add the increasing coziness of the GOP with the alt-right, Neo-Nazis, and fellow-travelers like David Duke.

I’ll also reiterate–and update– my son’s analysis, which I shared yesterday.

A vote for Donald Trump or any Republican  in 2020 means one of only two things: The voter is a racist, or the voter doesn’t consider the GOP’s thoroughgoing embrace of racism/white nationalism disqualifying.

In 2020, no other issue matters.

If we resoundingly defeat the cancer that is Trump and Republican white nationalism in 2020, we can return to our  heated debates about public policy, left versus right, and the proper interpretation of various constitutional rights. If we don’t, none of those things will matter.

In 2020, we will find out whether a majority of Americans are ready to confront –and reject–America’s original sin.