Tag Archives: GOP

Worse Than James Buchanan

Sorry about the erroneous email yesterday–a glitch on the site.

I’m at a loss to understand people who vote for their own destruction.

In Great Britain–where voters have just opted to be considerably less Great–goofy Boris Johnson will “lead” the country to withdraw from modern reality and economic stability. Here in the good old U.S. of A., the elected representatives of the cult that used to be the GOP continue to support the continuing embarrassment that is Donald Trump (recent example: “I’m too intelligent to believe in climate change”) and the daily insanities being perpetrated by his corrupt administration.

They are so far in his pocket (or up an anatomical entry point) that when he was recently forced  to pony up two million dollars to repay charities (including a children’s cancer charity) from which his “foundation” stole in order to pay legal settlements rated no reproofs from Grand Old Party brownshirts.

How substandard is this “President”? Gail Collins recently explained why historians expect him to replace James Buchanan. She began with a summary of the ways Trump is profiting from the Presidency.

The Trump charity scandal is an old story, but the impeachment process puts it in a new light. Particularly if you combine it with the money he’s piling up from his Scottish golf resort (thank you Air Force visitors), the Washington hotel (welcome, Saudi officials) and from what the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington estimated were more than 2,300 conflicts of interest between his personal finances and his day job.

Collins noted–but dismissed– parallels with Andrew Johnson:

Andrew Johnson was another awful president and history’s impeachment star until now, but he was praised for his financial integrity. “After becoming president, when prominent New York merchants tried to give him a magnificent carriage and span of horses he refused the gift,” noted Brenda Wineapple, the author of a history of the Johnson impeachment. “‘Those occupying high official positions,’ he politely said, must ‘decline the offerings of kind and loyal friends.’”

Trump would find that sentiment inconceivable.

It’s Buchanan, however, who has historically been considered America’s worst President. Yet even Buchanan compares favorably to today’s deeply disturbed occupant of the Oval Office.

“Unlike Trump, Buchanan was a generous man,” said Robert Strauss, who happens to be the author of a biography of Buchanan titled “Worst. President. Ever.” Buchanan “took in college students who couldn’t afford their room and board,” Strauss added. He never reneged on a debt.

It was published in October 2016. Strauss is still sticking with Buchanan, whom he calls “a nice guy put in the wrong job.” Obviously, secession tops being laughed at by leaders of other democratic powers at a cocktail party. But Trump could qualify for the bottom of the barrel if you throw in personal behavior and presume it’s better to be a nice guy in the wrong job than an awful guy in the wrong job.

It’s also highly unlikely that Buchanan ever attacked a sixteen-year-old girl for being (much) more widely admired than he was.

 

 

North Carolina’s Genuine Conservatives

I’m always hesitant to post observations requiring the use of terms like “liberal” “conservative” “progressive” or especially “socialist” and “fascist,” because over the past years, any conceptual clarity those labels may once have had has disappeared. These days they tend to be used as epithets, not efforts to communicate.

For example, I used to consider myself a conservative. I wanted to conserve the values of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I was (and remain) convinced that fiscal prudence means that–absent emergencies–programs should be paid for with current tax dollars remitted equitably by rich and poor, and not “borrow and spend.” I believe in limited government–and I believe that “limited government” means government limited to the performance of genuinely governmental tasks, like national defense or paving streets, and not the exercise of authority over my uterus or my soul.

Thanks to the GOP’s extreme move rightward, those are now generally considered to be liberal or progressive positions.

The dramatic change in the Republican Party, culminating in its current defense of a monumentally unfit, corrupt President, has created a deep disconnect between old-timers and the current cult. That disconnect recently prompted three North Carolina County Commissionerrs to leave the GOP, while laying claim to the term “conservative.”

To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law, ….

To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common ground works that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, ….

To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source.

We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.

They continue…

Next, we believe elected officials have a special duty to conduct themselves beyond reproach and make genuine efforts to represent all their constituents.

Elected officials must strive to conduct all public and private actions with honor and integrity.

Elected officials must value objective truth and, in turn, be truthful in their own statements and interactions.

And elected officials must continually work to hear the voices of all while making hard decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens

“Finally, and importantly, we believe local government should not be partisan in nature.

Good ideas come from across the spectrum of political thought.

Our focus is local, our objective is problem-solving for Transylvania County and our experience is thatpartisanship is an obstacle to effective local governance.

Governing is done best when done closest, and close governing is done best when removed from partisan encumbrances.”

These local officials–all of whom have lengthy histories in Republican politics– have put their emphasis on governing, not politicking. It’s an emphasis that has been absent from the national GOP for some time–a recognition that political activity is supposed to be directed toward winning an opportunity to serve.

When asked whether their dissatisfaction was local or national, one of the Commissioners responded

Leaders at every level should also operate with strict standards of honesty and integrity, both for themselves and others they work with. And leaders at every level should work to represent all citizens, regardless of the issue. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to suggest that Republican leadership at the highest levels are no longer consistently maintaining those principles.

Let’s hope these public servants–and I am happy to use that term–are harbingers of many defections from whatever it is the GOP has become. One thing for sure: today’s Republican Party isn’t conservative–at least, not as that term used to be understood.

It’s White Nationalist, and bent on dominance, not governance.

 

Mourning The Loss Of Republicans Like Bill Ruckelshaus

Back when I was a Republican, the party included statesmen like Bill Hudnut, Dick Lugar and Bill Ruckelshaus, all of whom I was privileged to know. With the death of Ruckelshaus last week, all are now gone, along with the intelligent, ethical service they exemplified.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a column from Counterpunch,  in which a reporter who had interviewed Ruckelshaus in 2006 reprinted the questions and answers from that interview.

“Ruck” is best known for his principled refusal as a Deputy A.G. to follow Nixon’s orders and dismiss the then-Special Prosecutor (in what has come to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”), but he was also the first administrator of Nixon’s EPA. (Yes, the EPA was established by a Republican President…How times have changed…)

For that reason, this particular interview focused upon environmental issues. From his answers, it was obvious that Ruckelshaus was scientifically knowledgable and passionate about the environment. He also displayed enormous insight into the policy process.

The first question asked by the reporter was “What is the greatest obstacle to implementing effective environmental policies?’

Ruckelshaus: Public distrust of the federal government. Unless the people can place some minimal degree of trust in their governmental institutions, free societies don’t work very well. To me, this is the central ugly fact confronting the government of the United States. The more mistrust by the public, the less effective government becomes at delivering what people want and need.

This is an important insight. The lack of public trust in governance is a significant reason for America’s current polarization. I’ve done some research on the trust issue–in 2009, I wrote a book, Distrust, American Style, in which I described some of the negative social consequences attributable to a pervasive lack of trust in government and other social institutions. (I also noted that “Fish rot from the head”…)

Particularly refreshing was Ruckelshaus’ answer to the question “What specifically do you think the U.S. should be doing in the area of environmental protection that it isn’t doing?”

I think we should adopt a Policy #1 that global warming is a real problem, and we are a major contributor to carbon in the atmosphere and we need to take serious steps to reduce it.

We should have some kind of Manhattan-style Project to find out how to a generate energy using less carbon and every form of energy should be open, including nuclear. Nuclear power is not economical right now and it also scares people to death, even though we have generated 20 percent of our electrical energy in this country using nuclear power for a long time and are likely to be generating something like that over the next 15 to 20 years when these plants are scheduled to phase out. But other alternative forms of energy, including really getting serious about conservation, can all be done within economic good sense.

Several other answers were notable both for their directness and Ruckelshaus’ obvious depth of knowledge. He described “politics” as the predictable reaction to regulations that threatened to diminish an existing benefit valued by a lawmaker’s “constituency.” (Constituency, in this case, is “special interest” i.e., clean air versus oil subsidies…)

In his last response, Ruckelshaus returned to the issue of trust. Asked whether he would consider a hypothetical offer to return to the top position at the EPA, he said probably not–that

in order to get constructive change in either our environmental laws or the way they’re administered, you have to have a fairly high degree of public trust. But if the public didn’t believe you and thought your decisions were favoring some constituency that the president had, it’s very hard to make any progress.

That, of course, is a perfectly accurate description of where we find ourselves today.

No one in his right mind believes that Trump gives a rat’s hindquarters about the environment–or, for that matter, that he knows anything at all about science or climate change or the government’s responsibility to safeguard the air and water.  The EPA is currently being run by a former coal lobbyist, and there is plenty of reason to believe that, in this administration, rules are only being made–or more accurately, relaxed and repealed–to “favor some constituency.”

The contrast between Republicans like Ruckelshaus and today’s Trump sycophants is sobering. If you care about America, it’s heartbreaking.

 

 

ALEC’s Priority: Gerrymandering

One of the many problems exacerbated by the loss of local journalism is the increasing nationalization of American politics. Those who follow political news are focused almost exclusively on Washington, and that focus has only intensified since 2016. If there is one thing Donald Trump is good at (and it is the only thing), it is sucking the air out of the newsroom. He’s like the wreck by the side of the road that you can’t help rubbernecking.

But we ignore state politics at our peril.

Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office because the Republican Party has been punching above its weight for a number of years. The GOP  has been able to win elections not because it can claim majority status, but because it has been able to game the system at the state level, primarily through gerrymandering and voter suppression.

And these efforts have been aided and abetted by ALEC.

ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council–is a powerful (and secretive) conservative organization. It is best known for preparing “model” bills favorable to its corporate members, bills that more often than not are introduced–unaltered– by conservative state legislators. ALEC has been incredibly successful in getting these measure passed, and the organization has shaped legislation in policy areas ranging from health care (undercutting the Affordable Care Act) to criminal justice (promoting private prisons). It has worked to lower taxes, eliminate environmental regulations, quash unions, and protect corporations from lawsuits, and it depends upon Republicans to achieve its aims.

So the organization’s current priority is gerrymandering.

In the early August heat, nearly 200 Republican lawmakers gathered in an Austin, Texas, hotel to learn about what one panelist described as a “political adult bloodsport.” The matter at hand — gerrymandering — could lock in Republican power in the states for another decade if successfully carried out again in 2021.

This meeting was evidently a bit less secretive than usual, since reporters were able to attend the sessions on gerrymandering. One was even able to record it.

 This unprecedented level of reporting on the panel uncovered the tactics conservatives plan to employ as they seek to maintain the Republican hold on state legislatures across the country in the crucial redistricting wars to come….

The conservative experts gave attendees a range of tips on how to approach gerrymandering, from legislative actions to legal preparedness. The panelists scoffed at the idea of appointing independent commissions in states to draw districts, a solution to partisan gerrymandering gaining traction in some states, instead urging state lawmakers to secure as much control over the process as possible. One panelist suggested Republican lawmakers work with black and Latino lawmakers to pack minority voters into districts, and another urged them to exclude noncitizens from the population numbers used to determine districts, a move that would dramatically redistribute power away from blue areas. Yet, ALEC also warned state lawmakers to be careful — to avoid using the word “gerrymander” and drawing lines too heavily based on race.

As the linked article points out, other conservative organizations may be focused on the federal government, but ALEC understands that the key to power is at the state level– and that the key to maintaining that power is redistricting.

ALEC’s ultimate goal is to have more influence on state lawmakers than the lawmakers’ voters.

They want people to listen to them and not their voters, and the way they do that is by creating these gerrymandered districts so legislators don’t have to address the concerns of their district.

Gerrymandering does more than skew lawmaking at the state level, of course–it results in unrepresentative, “safe” Congressional districts that send disproportionate numbers of Republicans to Congress. Democrats win more votes; Republicans win more seats.In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans, but Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats than the Democrats. Some of this is due to systemic issues, but much of it is due to gerrymandering.

After the last census, Republicans engaged in a national gerrymandering campaign that was so effective, it put Democrats at a disadvantage for a decade.

That disadvantage gave us the Tea Party and lots of laws written by ALEC .

A Depressing Analysis

I frequently cite Talking Points Memo. I have found it to be an excellent source of information about what’s going on in Washington–clearly progressive, but scrupulously accurate in its reporting and very thoughtful in its analysis.

I have a lot of respect for the site and for Josh Marshall, the journalist who established it. That’s why I found the following discussion both persuasive and depressing. It was an explanation of the dilemma facing GOP Senators, who–Josh explains– cannot simply rid themselves of Trump. Some of his observations..

There is simply no scenario in which the GOP can easily quit the President or do so without driving a major, divisive and lasting wedge through the center of the party…

Trump’s rule has been so durable because despite his unpopularity he maintains the intense support of a large minority of the electorate. For a mix of demographic and geographical reasons it is a minority that generally over-performs in electoral terms…

But probably 30% and certainly more than 20% are deeply attached to Trump, not only for his few relative points of ideological heterodoxy (trade restrictions, isolationism, etc.) but much more for his embodiment of an authoritarian and illiberal worldview both at home and abroad. These voters will have a very hard time forgiving any Republican leaders who turn on Trump and try to drive him from office. He has simply remade the party so thoroughly around an emotive ecosystem of dominance, obedience and betrayal.

Trump has built his political movement and persona around the politics of grievance and resentment. These are the taproots of the version of American conservatism we now call Trumpism. But Trump embodied and thus sealed and deepened those tendencies in a transformative way. Any partisan would resent politicians who turned on a leader to whom they felt a profound loyalty. But none like pro-Trump diehards.

Josh is convinced that a Senate Republican defection remains unlikely– that there is no substantial number of Republicans who will vote to remove Trump from office. But–as he points out–if facts continue to emerge confirming what we already know about the President’s perfidy, “there’s really no scenario in which most Republican senators won’t face a damaging outcome whichever side of the impeachment question they come down on.”

Don’t expect major defections. But that’s not really the question. The real issue is that Republicans are trapped with someone they can’t cut loose.

I have just one quibble with this otherwise compelling analysis. It begins with the assumption that these Republican Senators want to be re-elected more than they want to do the right thing.

A vote to convict would secure the Senator who casts it a favorable mention in the history books–and it would be a vote for Constitutional accountability and the rule of law.

A vote to acquit will mark the Senator who casts it as a moral coward–but probably an employed moral coward.

Josh has placed his bet on the choice most will make. It pains me to say it, but he is probably right.