Tag Archives: kakistocracy

When You Put It That Way…

As we watch the dust settle from the November election, many of us are torn: we are immensely relieved that Trump was emphatically defeated, but disappointed that the polling was so wrong, that the Democrats failed to take the Senate and win the many statehouse races around the country that looked within the party’s grasp.

Dana Milbank addressed that disappointment in a recent column for the Washington Post.

Milbank reminded his readers just how significant the election results were, and noted that the recriminations and dismay fail to do justice to “the historic victory that Democrats, independent voters and a brave few Republicans just pulled off.”

They denied a president a second term for the first time in 28 years — putting Trump in the company of Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. President-elect Biden — just writing that brings relief — received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, in an election with historically high voter turnout. A president who loves to apply superlatives can now claim a RECORD, HUGE and BIGGEST EVER defeat….

Ousting a demagogue with the loudest megaphone in the land is not an easy undertaking. Trump’s opponents had to overcome an unprecedented stream of disinformation and falsehoods from the president, even as his party normalized the assaults on truth, on facts, on science, on expertise. Trump’s opponents were up against a strongman who used the Justice Department, diplomats and the intelligence community to harass political opponents, who used federal police to suppress public demonstrations, who engaged in a massive campaign of voter intimidation and suppression, and who used government powers for political advantage: enlisting government employees to campaign for him, sabotaging postal operations, putting his name on taxpayer-funded checks, using the White House for a party convention. And Trump’s opponents had to contend with a Fox News cheering section and social-media landscape that insulated millions from reality.

It would be great if We the People could now just breathe sighs of relief and go back to our apathetic ways–back to the time before Trump where majorities of citizens essentially ignored politics and government–leaving policy to the political class. A sweeping victory that included the Senate would undoubtedly be seen as a signal that “our long national nightmare is over” and we can return to our previous preoccupations.

That would be a mistake. Perhaps a fatal one.

The Trump administration has been a symptom. A frightening one, for sure, but a warning that when large numbers of citizens take a protracted absence from participation in the democratic process, bad things happen. People like Mitch McConnell gain power. The rich and well-connected bend the laws in their favor. Politicians who place the exercise of power above the common good are entrenched. The planet suffers.

In past posts, I have enumerated many–certainly not all– of America’s structural issues and the way those issues have facilitated our transformation into a kakistocracy. We the People have our work cut out for us, and just as the obvious dangers of the Trump administration served as a wake-up call for millions of Americans who had been ignoring our downward spiral, the fact that seventy million Americans voted not just for a frighteningly mentally-ill ignoramus, but for the party that enabled him, must serve as a warning.

Americans who live in the reality-based community cannot afford to lapse back into complacency and the never-well-founded belief that “it can’t happen here.”

 

An Excellent Summary

My husband recently recommended that I read a lengthy article from the Atlantic by Ed Yong.  Despite the fact that I am a pretty devoted reader of that publication, and a subscriber, I’d missed it.

If you are trapped at home with nothing pressing to do (clean out the refrigerator, or knit face masks, or whatever), you should click through and read the article in its entirety. In case you don’t have the time or inclination, I am cutting and pasting paragraphs that–in my estimation–are insightful and important.

A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”…

As my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases.

The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure….

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

The quoted paragraphs are followed by predictions of what will come next–best and worst case. Bottom line: even in the best-case scenarios, this isn’t going to be over any time soon. The “President” may think a vaccine or cure can be magically discovered and mass produced in a couple of weeks, but scientists and sane people know better.

And then there’s the aftermath…

As my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote, the economy is experiencing a shock “more sudden and severe than anyone alive has ever experienced.” About one in five people in the United States have lost working hours or jobs. Hotels are empty. Airlines are grounding flights. Restaurants and other small businesses are closing. Inequalities will widen: People with low incomes will be hardest-hit by social-distancing measures, and most likely to have the chronic health conditions that increase their risk of severe infections. Diseases have destabilized cities and societies many times over, “but it hasn’t happened in this country in a very long time, or to quite the extent that we’re seeing now,” says Elena Conis, a historian of medicine at UC Berkeley. “We’re far more urban and metropolitan. We have more people traveling great distances and living far from family and work.”

After infections begin ebbing, a secondary pandemic of mental-health problems will follow. …People with anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder are struggling. Elderly people, who are already excluded from much of public life, are being asked to distance themselves even further, deepening their loneliness. Asian people are suffering racist insults, fueled by a president who insists on labeling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Incidents of domestic violence and child abuse are likely to spike as people are forced to stay in unsafe homes.

The article does end with a thin ray of hope–or perhaps “challenge” is a more appropriate word. Pandemics can catalyze social change.

Perhaps the nation will learn that preparedness isn’t just about masks, vaccines, and tests, but also about fair labor policies and a stable and equal health-care system. Perhaps it will appreciate that health-care workers and public-health specialists compose America’s social immune system, and that this system has been suppressed.

If we are very, very fortunate, in November we will not retreat further into authoritarianism and fear; instead, we’ll recognize that all diseases aren’t physical, and all tests aren’t medical.

Our test is whether America will repudiate the virus of bigoted “America first” politics, reject kakistocracy, and pivot from isolationism to international cooperation.

 

 

Listen to Rick Wilson

In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses (a period of time that has begun to seem interminable) and in the wake of the January Democratic debate, the identity of the Democratic party’s eventual nominee is still unknown. Whichever candidate emerges, however, he or she will face an incumbent and a party untethered to ethics and willing to employ a range of “dirty tricks” that far exceeds even the worst of what has gone before.

That nominee–and the Democratic Party–need to be prepared. They need to listen to Rick Wilson.

Wilson is a long-time Republican strategist. He is also one of the (comparatively few) “professional” Republicans who were horrified by Trump’s victory; he has spent the last three years advocating for a return to sanity and battling the conspiracy theories and “alternate facts” so beloved by Trump’s base. (I think–although I’m not sure–that he is the source of the “Vichy Republican” epithet widely used to describe Trump’s feckless GOP collaborators.)

Wilson has just come out with a new book: Running Against The Devil. His previous book was Everything Trump Touches Dies–the title doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity about Wilson’s opinion of The Donald, but just in case you didn’t pick up on his animus, he’s been quoted as saying that Trump will “go down in history with asterisks next to his name for endemic corruption, outrageous stupidity, egregious cruelty and inhumanity, for diminishing the presidency and the nation, and for being a lout with a terrible wig.”

Although I haven’t had a chance to read the new book, I did come across an informative review of it in The Guardian. Some excerpts:

Unlike most of the Washington reporters covering Donald Trump, Wilson, a Republican strategist and ad man, wastes no time trying to be fair or balanced about the career criminal who is the temporary occupant of the White House. His advice to Democrats is beautifully summarized in his epilogue:

Do not, as my party did, underestimate the evil, desperate nature of evil desperate people. Do not come to this fight believing that the Trump team views any action, including outright criminality, as off limits. [The 2020 election] is a battle that decides whether they have an unlimited runway to create a dynastic kleptocracy based on an authoritarian personality cult that makes North Korea look like Sweden, or whether the immune system of the Republic kicks in and purges them from the body public …

There is no bottom. There is no shame. There are no limits … He is surrounded by cowards with frightening and tremendous skills …

Wilson believes that the only thing that could save Trump in November would be a Democratic party “too stubborn, undisciplined and foolish to get out of its own way”–and those of us who follow such things know that such behavior on the part of the Democratic Party is a realistic possibility.

Democrats, in Wilson’s view, should emphasize foreign policy (a case that “makes itself”) and especially corruption.

Whether “it’s lobbyists for Wall Street banks, big coal, the payday loan industry, private prisons, or any other number of economic vampires, the Trump kakistocracy really does have something for everyone: nepotism, cronyism, pay-for-play, backroom deals for donors, abuse of power, lying to Congress … and as a bonus, monetizing cruelty to children.”

Trump, Wilson writes, is “sending a signal, loud and clear, that he’s for sale, satisfaction guaranteed.”

In November, we will see how many voters are buying the primary product Trump is selling–white supremacy and the demise of the American experiment.

 

 

About That “City On A Hill”

Back when Republicans were (mostly) sane–when they cared about good government at least as much as raw power, I worked in the Indianapolis mayoral administration of Bill Hudnut. Bill had his faults, as we all do, but he passionately loved the city and tried to do what was best for all of its inhabitants.

He was also a former Presbyterian minister who often compared America–and to a lesser extent Indianapolis– to “The Shining City on the Hill.” We were to be a beacon, an ideal to which others aspired.

In the absence of a real newspaper, I can’t offer an educated evaluation of today’s Indianapolis, but no one in their right mind thinks today’s United States is a beacon to be emulated. It isn’t simply our massive and embarrassing policy failures (think health care, the environment, criminal justice, race relations, women’s rights and economic justice, for starters…)

It’s the corruption.

As the New York Times has recently–amply, overwhelmingly– documented, our President is a crook. Not that most of us are surprised, given the indictments of his associates, the scandals of his cabinet , and his whole sordid history.

Paul Krugman has responded analytically to the evidence:  

The blockbuster New York Times report on the Trump family’s history of fraud is really about two distinct although linked kinds of fraudulence.

On one side, the family engaged in tax fraud on a huge scale, using a variety of money-laundering techniques to avoid paying what it owed. On the other, the story Donald Trump tells about his life — his depiction of himself as a self-made businessman who made billions starting from humble roots — has always been a lie: Not only did he inherit his wealth, receiving the equivalent of more than $400 million from his father, but Fred Trump bailed his son out after deals went bad.

So, Krugman says, voters who bought Trump’s highly inaccurate version of Donald Trump bought snake-oil. But the bigger, and much more damaging fraud is the story we tell ourselves about America the Meritocracy.

The tale of the Trump money is part of a bigger story. Even among those unhappy at the extent to which we live in an era of soaring inequality and growing concentration of wealth at the top, there has been a tendency to believe that great wealth is, more often than not, earned more or less honestly. It’s only now that the amounts of sheer corruption and lawbreaking that underlie our march toward oligarchy have started to come into focus.

Until recently, my guess is that most economists, even tax experts, would have agreed that tax avoidance by corporations and the wealthy — which is legal — was a big issue, but tax evasion— hiding money from the tax man — was a lesser one. It was obvious that some rich people were exploiting legal if morally dubious loopholes in the tax code, but the prevailing view was that simply defrauding the tax authorities and hence the public wasn’t that widespread in advanced countries.

But this view always rested on shaky foundations. After all, tax evasion, almost by definition, doesn’t show up in official statistics, and the super-wealthy aren’t in the habit of mouthing off about what great tax cheats they are. To get a real picture of how much fraud is going on, you either have to do what The Times did — exhaustively investigate the finances of a particular family — or rely on lucky breaks that reveal what was previously hidden.

We’ve had some of those “lucky breaks,” as Krugman points out. Thanks to the Panama Papers and other leaks, we now know that outright tax evasion by the very wealthy is pervasive. Researchers estimate that the rich pay on average 25 percent less than they owe–enough to pay for the entire food stamp program. And of course, that tax evasion serves to entrench privilege and allows it to be passed on to the heirs of that privilege.

Just like Trump’s daddy did.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have been “systematically defunding the Internal Revenue Service, crippling its ability to investigate tax fraud. We don’t just have government by tax cheats; we have government of tax cheats, for tax cheats.”

It’s not just that the president of the United States is, as veteran tax reporter David Cay Johnston put it, a “financial vampire,” cheating taxpayers the way he has cheated just about everyone else who deals with him.

Beyond that, our trend toward oligarchy — rule by the few — is also looking more and more like kakistocracy — rule by the worst, or at least the most unscrupulous. The corruption isn’t subtle; on the contrary, it’s cruder than almost anyone imagined. It also runs deep, and it has infected our politics, quite literally up to its highest levels.

So much for “the Shining City on the Hill.” America is more like an inner-city neighborhood where kids look up to the rich drug dealer.