Here come the fear

Three weeks after losing sleep to tatichardia and denial, I’m no closer to accepting what the pundit class regards as a normal election cycle. My instinct is to reject allusions to Weimar Germany as canned and lacking in imagination, like all hyperbole. Remembering the degeneracy of the Bill Clinton opposition and the way in which it fed the bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City, Rick Perlstein wonders if it the so-called opposition party is up to the task of, well, opposing. The first step is recognizing the existential nature of the problem, and, according to Perlstein, the Democrats have already failed. Perlstein remembers the growing threat of violence in 1993 and 1994 precipitating the bombing:

I saw the word “terrorism” only once, in a self-congratulatory text about how initial suspicions of “Muslim terrorists” were overcome, fair-minded Americans turning their rage on a corn-fed American boy instead: another blessing, this opportunity to prove that America was not racist. There was no mention of right-wing talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy advising his listeners the previous year to confront agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fireams: “Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” Or Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolutionaries taking over Congress via rhetoric depicting the federal government as an alien occupying army. Or Jesse Helms informing President Bill Clinton that if he visited North Carolina, he should bring bodyguards.

Or Bob Dole declaring on the floor of the Senate that he had to represent the 57 percent of the population that didn’t vote for Clinton; he made it clear that William Jefferson Clinton may have been president but not his president. Bill Clinton the GOP remembers now as a gentlemanly moderate oasis.

Meanwhile Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Education, whose brother is Blackwater founder Eric Prince, once said in public that changing school systems is a battle as fierce as the Israelites fighting the Philistines:

The Devos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to “Focus on the Family”, a conservative Christian organization that supports so-called conversion therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation.

During the DeVos interview, the couple talks about a trip to Israel where they learned about a geographical region, called the Shephelah, where battles were fought between the Israelites and Philistines. Betsy DeVos then links this topic to education.

“It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding-the-Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country,” she says.

Only in the last week has a sewer like National Review awakened to the realization that it’s going to get eighty percent of what it wants from a Trump presidency; its writers put influence over policy during the election season, and not for the first time.

On November 6, I looked forward to retiring the Donald Trump hashtag.

Pence + Prince

In The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill’s profile of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence depicts a repugnant little ideologue: “a reliable stalwart throughout his public life in the cause of Christian jihad — never wavering in his commitment to America-First militarism, the criminalizing of abortion, and utter hatred for gay people (unless they go into conversion therapy “to change their sexual behavior,” which Pence has suggested the government pay for).” I can’t do better than this description, nor should you fail to read the story for its invaluable hyperlinks, many of which we’ll see we hope-shorn liberals post on social media in the coming months.

But the real gold is in the second half of the story. The writer of the definitive book on how the Department of Defense and national security apparatus leased its war-waging powers to a private army, Scahill explains the connections between Pence and former Blackwater chief Eric Prince:

The Princes consistently poured money into criminalizing abortion, privatizing education, blocking gay rights, and other right-wing causes centered around their interpretation of Christianity. The family, especially Erik, was very close to Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Watergate conspirator Charles “Chuck” Colson. The author of Nixon’s enemies list, Colson was the first person sentenced in the Watergate scandal, after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the investigation of the dirty tricks campaign against Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Colson became a born-again Christian before going to prison, and after his release, he started the Prison Fellowship, which sought to convert prisoners to Christianity to counter what Colson saw as the Islamic menace in U.S. prisons. Erik Prince funded this as well and went on prison visits with Colson.

All of these figures, bankrolled by the Prince family, are the ideological and theological ascendants of Mike Pence, who called Colson “a dear friend and mentor.” Colson and his allies viewed the administration of Bill Clinton as a secular “regime” and openly contemplated a faith-based revolution. In the early ’90s, Colson teamed up with conservative evangelical minister-turned-Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus and others to build a unified movement

Now, when I got to the end of Scahill’s story I remembered the curt dismissal of Jason Robards’ Ben Bradlee in All The President’s Men: “You haven’t got it.” Pence may yet pull the trick that got New Jersey’s bosses to regret their decision to endorse Woodrow Wilson for governor: “We bought the son of a bitch, and then he didn’t stay bought.” Anyone hoping for the president-elect as a mitigator forgets that he hasn’t read any long book, much less the Bible.

Worse than the George W. Bush administration, a Trump White House will allow these Christian charlatans and their congressional collaborators untrammeled access to the public treasury until the idea of “public” loses its meaning.

Modern conservatism is a shuck

As the campaign ends and Inauguration Day augurs the bang of a House committee chair’s gavel announcing the start of a new investigation into the president’s conduct, credulous reporters will get access to people like this and produce stories like these:

The chasm that opened first was intellectual: The neocon movement, which was, in essence, the brain trust of the latter Bush, “has broken off,” Berkowitz said. The next fissure appears to be generational: The so-called reformicons—a priesthood of intellectual Gen X-ers who have been trying to recalibrate Reagan’s vision for the conditions of the 21st century—are at the very heart of the agonized intraparty conflict. On one hand, they’ve often been seen as the potential ideological future of the party. On the other, a resoundingly loud majority of their electorate, the very people for whom they were tending the flame, have roundly rejected their vision. Few in the Republican base in 2016 cared much for free trade and supply-side economics, preferring the isolationist, nativist, paleocon teachings of the itinerant preacher Trump.

Establishment stalwarts in their 60s, meanwhile, are rolling their eyes at the angst of these rarefied intellectual purists, saying there’s nothing wrong with tinkering with your ideology for the sake of forming a coalition to hold power, no matter how motley. To them, Trump is a black swan event, and the way forward, though significantly more difficult after the chaos he’s wrought, isn’t all that fraught: Toss some ideological dead weight overboard to bring in more voters, and run a candidate like Trump’s VP pick Mike Pence in 2020.

So trained are political reporters to take sources at their word, so delicious the idea of a political party flagellating itself for the sake of promoting this austerity proposal or that “entitlement reform” package, that few people will say the sentiments quoted above are rubbish. Thanks to an addiction to leaden polysyllabic words, William F. Buckley, Jr. normalized the detestation of the poor and disregard for complaints from minorities. As the sun set on Richard Nixon’s felonocracy, George Will cracked the code for inserting Edmund Burke, Disraeli, Russell Kirk, Churchill, Hayek, and Oakesshott into columns that supported a contempt for busing, public schools, and healthy diets, and endorsements of abattoirs in Central America (later subjects include Allen Ginsburg, blue jeans, and the coarsening effect of Bill Clinton on civic life). In their children they inculcate their children in the conviction that federal laws against discrimination are the government’s means of destroying straight white men.

In other posts I’ve confessed to never recognizing conservatism as a positive force; it can’t be. By nature it must oppose. Since at least January 1981 and probably January 1968, what it opposes it must vaporize. The opposition is illegitimate. Busing doesn’t work? Fine. Then leave Jim Crow in public schools intact. Oppose welfare? Good. How do we put these young mothers to work? Gays want to get married? Tough luck – lie about pursuing this lifestyle choice, the same way a child denies sticking a hand in the oatmeal cookie jar. A public option is unmanageable? OK. What to do about pre-existing conditions or those stuck in jobs that don’t provide insurance? Repeatedly the last forty years of political life have seen conservatives back away from the complexities of modern life mumbling the mantra What’s mine is mine. Your bad luck is your business – and your fault, for obviously you deserved it.

A twenty-first century conservative, contrary to his sense of self-importance, is an interventionist, obsessed with the chiselers who might catch a break; he will not stop interfering in your life; he will oppose safe water and efforts to mitigate rising seas because we’re not supposed to spend his money on them, money he will spend on Aquafina and relocating to a suburb garnered from comfortable tax exemptions. Modern conservatism is a shuck. If Donald J. Trump has offered any contribution to our civic, it’s exposing the self-hypnosis practiced by greedy conservative men, for which we did not need von Mises.


Perlstein: How a Trump loss might ‘wipe the slate clean’ for conservatism


Rick Perlstein, premier analyst of the conservative movement since 1960, explains how Donald Trump is Culmination and Aberration:

Isaac Chotiner: Ideologically and strategically, how do you think Trump’s loss will be understood among Republicans?

Perlstein: I’m kind of famous for coming up with a little epigram, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.” I came up with this during my long experience of studying the right, and realizing that basically anything that is politically successful is kind of labeled conservatism. Any failure is wiped off the books in this bad faith utterance that well, of course it failed because it wasn’t conservative. Romney wasn’t conservative enough. McCain wasn’t conservative enough. “Bush wasn’t conservative,” you began to hear in 2004, when the wheels came off the bus with Iraq, and all the rest.

That’s what we’ll hear, “Of course, Trump lost. He wasn’t conservative.” That allows everyone else in the Republican Party, basically, to push the infamous reset button. I think a lot of what we saw in the last couple of weeks with Trump’s various former supporters jumping ship, ostensibly because of this grotesque tape and the rest, is all about setting up that next move in the chess game. Everyone who has paid any kind of attention knew that Trump was this kind of guy in the first place. I think what we’ll see is the Paul Ryans and the Ted Cruzes, jockeying for the position of King of Conservatism saying, “We need to wipe the slate clean and go back to Reagan.” The dilemma that raises is that Trump has raised energies in the Republican electorate that may not be able to be so easily contained.

But Perlstein is skeptical about Hillary Clinton’s “actically shrewd and strategically questionable” attempts to reduce Trump into an outlier. Should the Democrats get the Senate (possible) and the House (not likely), Perlstein says he’s optimistic about Clinton’s progressive agenda:

The other day I allowed myself the fantasy of what a Clinton presidency is going to look like, and of course the big tactical question for every new president is which of their bills they introduce first, because that’s the one they have the most political capital to get across. I was like, well, it could be her paid family leave bill, it could be her bill for free college for everyone making under $125,000 and the debt relief for everyone. It could be her new tax credits for the very poor, who Peter Edelman—who resigned from the first Clinton administration over welfare reform—has said is the best poverty program he’s seen in a long time. I was like, wow, there really isn’t anything on her plate that isn’t a pretty strong, progressive, populist intervention. I’m pretty certain that there’s very little room for her to abandon that. She’s laid down some pretty strong markers

This would mean, of course, progressives avoiding the slough of victory whereby the fight against Trump exhausts all concerned.

Tonight I will live blog the third and, thankfully, last presidential debate.

‘A 10-year tax cut is not a bad deal’

As if watching reporters wading into ankle deep water for the sake of a hurricane wasn’t laughable enough, here’s what Speaker Paul Ryan has in store for the country should Donald Trump lay his hand on Art of the Deal and take the oath in January 2017: pass his budget using that wondrous parliamentary trick called reconciliation, last used by the Democrats in spring 2010 to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Trump and House Republicans have proposed different tax plans, but they are largely in sync on major principles. Both would cut the top tax rate for individuals to 33 percent from the current 39.6 percent. The corporate rate would drop to 15 percent under Trump’s plan and 20 percent under the House GOP plan, from 35 percent today. Both plans also would drain federal coffers of several trillion dollars and give the biggest boost to the wealthy. By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent would have accumulated 99.6 percent of the benefits of the House GOP plan, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Grover Norquist provides the most telling quote: “A 10-year tax cut is not a bad deal. Very few things in life are forever.” St. Ronnie once said that he wasn’t jumping a cliff for the sake of a hundred percent of a proposal if he could get sixty. An old pro, Norquist understands the magnitude of Ryan’s budget; passing or “reconciling” even a sliver of it would change the relationship of the federal taxing power and citizens.

Another reminder to my liberal colleagues of what’s at stake. There will be no Democratic resistance to Trump and a Republican House in January because, like Florida, they have no meaningful way to stop this shit.

College Republicans for Trump: ‘…he speaks like a person of my generation’

Los pobres!

At Mr. Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Grayson Sessa, the vice president of the school’s College Republicans, said he was dismayed by the nominee’s name-calling and hoped the party’s values could withstand him. “It’s not a great feeling,” he said.

At Yale, the chapter’s endorsement of Mr. Trump led to a mutiny, with departing members forming the Yale New Republicans and Yale Undergraduate Conservatives Against Trump. And at Harvard, alma mater of countless Republican leaders, the club’s president, Declan Garvey, 21, said that between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, “I would have to vote for Hillary.”

But Karis Lockhart, the chairwoman of the University of Central Florida chapter, whose parents met as College Republicans, said that those who could not bring themselves to vote for Mr. Trump were being overly sensitive.

She argued that Mr. Trump would bring in new voters who would help in other races on the ballot. “He’s dumbing it down for people who don’t want the numbers and statistics,” she said approvingly.

College Republicans are a bigger albeit subtler force on my campus than you’d think in fervently blue Miami-Dade County; this chapter and student government are practically synonymous. As baiting minorities looks less acceptable, this iteration of conservatism treasures low taxes and “responsibility” with a healthy dose of received anti-Clintonism, the latter of which they learned from parents if they’re Cuban. Gay marriage they’re cool with — a “non-issue” as they like to say. Sea level rise they avoid as a discussion point, especially on a campus which produces excellent research showing its effects. Student who attend a commuter school have it hard: they’re at war with the small-l-liberal education of the classroom and their parents’ attitudes.

Hillary Clinton will court the GOP at her peril


Last week I wondered whether Donald Trump represents a Unique Threat or a Culmination. I tend to think both, an answer that isn’t a contradiction. But the short term goals of expanding Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances will come at the price of a governing coalition. A historian who has written three masterful books about the rise of conservatism since 1960, Rick Perlstein is more adept than most at placing the Clinton campaign’s folly in historical context:

Large numbers of supporters of only glancing or provisional commitment to your governing agenda, shoehorned into your tent in time for Election Day, can become quite the liability for effectuating that agenda when it comes time to govern.

Championing a revision to the tax code, President Jimmy Carter watched as the bill behind which he threw executive support was eviscerated by the very Democrats elected in 1974 and 1976 as part of the national disgust over Watergate and other Nixon-era abuses (the same class of which Joseph Biden, Jr. of Delaware was a member). Perlstein again:

In October 1978, a Congress with more than two-to-one Democratic representation voted for the first time in history to make the tax code more regressive. In each of the progressive measures that was defeated, the deciding votes came from first- or second-term Democratic congressmen. The reason for this poor fortune for the New Deal legacy, paradoxically, was precisely what was understood to be the good fortune of the Democratic Party: habitual Republicans disgusted with their party after Watergate were voting for Democrats for the first time. Many of the Watergate Babies represented traditionally Republican suburbs. They went to Washington and voted their constituencies. It was one of the reasons—though there were many—that Jimmy Carter geared up to run for his second term with the albatross of a failed presidency around his neck.

(Walter Karp’s Liberty Under Siege is the classic guide; please buy it). In the heady days of December 2006 — a decade ago! — when Rahm Emmanuel proclaimed his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a model for the future the party had been demoralized for so long that it wanted to win.

In hindsight it reminds me of the Republican Party in 1952, banished from public life since Hoover’s defeat twenty (!) years earlier. Whom did it run? Not “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft but the war hero with the terrifying smile and no political experience other than the formidable task of leading the Allied armies against Hitler. Dwight Eisenhower won in a landslide; the GOP, campaigning on change, won the House and Senate for the first time since 1946. But Eisenhower was a shrewder pol than anyone realized, which is to say, he cared about his survival more than his party’s. The New Deal remained not just popular but a fact of American public life (“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history,” he wrote his brother Milton). So starved was the GOP for victory that it abdicated any notions of conservatism. It became a consumptive brother of the Democrats with lunatic fringes dismissed by Lionel Trilling’s liberal consensus. The results? In 1954 the Republicans lost the House and Senate again, out of reach for forty years — the longest exile in America political history. 1958 was another huge rebuke. Ike regarded Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson as a better governing partner than William Knowland.

History is cunning. Without those majorities in 2006 and 2008 my unemployed friends wouldn’t have Obamacare, but without those Blue Dog Dems we would have had sturdier progressive legislation — not perfect, but perhaps less market-driven. Clinton won’t flip the House. Hell, she may not even flip the Senate. But she’s already signaling how the rest of us might write the epitaphs in 2020.

Gary Johnson’s fealty to eliminating government

I don’t think friends and relatives who say they’ll vote for Gary Johnson are deluded; I think they know precisely whom they’re voting for. As governor of New Mexico, Johnson showed a “relentless drive to privatize or eliminate functions of state government.”

Johnson originally ran on a platform of privatizing every jail in the state — “that way,” he reasoned, “we’ll always have the latest and greatest and best.” His first budget proposal included $91 million for a new privately run state prison.

As Joseph T. Hallinan reports in his book on the US prison system, Going Up the River, Johnson accepted at least $9,000 in campaign donations from a prison company that ultimately won a state contract. By the time he left office, New Mexico led the country in for-profit prisons, housing 44 percent of its inmates in private facilities. Only Alaska, with 31 percent, came close.

Whenever problems surfaced in the for-profit prisons, Johnson turned extremely defensive. In 2000, after four inmates and a guard were killed in private facilities, Johnson vetoed an oversight bill and startled reporters by insisting that New Mexico had the best prisons in the nation. When a riot in a private prison prompted him to send 109 inmates elsewhere, he selected a supermax prison run by the same company in Virginia — despite previous reports of human-rights violations. To this day Johnson is remorseless, saying he “saved taxpayers a lot of money.”

Johnson’s preference for private prisons dovetailed with his tough-on-crime philosophy. As governor, he advocated a three-strikes sentencing policy and a law eliminating early parole. He also sought to limit appeals from death row and even said capital punishment should sometimes be used on minors. (He later changed his mind and said he wanted to eliminate the death penalty altogether; he still believed in “an eye for an eye” but thought that as a policy, it was too costly and unfair.)

In other words, he’s a Republican, insofar as the libertarian and Republican positions are interchangeable these days: note how Sam Brownback has turned Kansas into an abattoir for ideas about government’s commitment to citizens. And while Hillary Clinton wasn’t shy about accepting dough from private prison lobbyists, at least she’s renounced the practice. I’m sorry about William Weld’s association with Johnson. Once one of the last of the moderate Rockefeller Republicans (he quit Ed Meese’s Justice Department in protest over the Wedtech scandal, he’s tied himself to libertarianism because his former party has no use for men of his kind.

Fomenting distrust in mainstream media

Oliver Darcy interviewed right talk show host Charlie Sykes, who admitted the truth:

Over the years conservative talk show hosts, and I’m certainly one of them, we’ve done a remarkable job of challenging and attacking the mainstream media. But perhaps what we did was also the destroy any sense of a standard. Where do you go to have any sense of the truth? You have Donald Trump come along and the man says things that are demonstrably untrue on a daily basis. My experience has been look, we live in an era when every drunk at the end of the bar has a twitter account and maybe has a blog and when you try to point out “this is not true, this is a lie” and then you cite the Washington Post or the New York Times, their response is “oh that’s the mainstream media.” So we’ve done such a good job of discrediting them that there’s almost no place to go to be able to fact check.

No revelations, just exposure of MO.

Krugman: GOP ‘currying’ favor with bigots for tax cuts

Paul Krugman, never a writer of felicitous prose, reminded me in clear English of Obama administration tax policy in the last four years:

What’s that? It’s the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the average federal tax rate for the top 1 percent in 2013, the latest year available. And it’s up from just 28.2 in 2008, because President Obama allowed the high-end Bush tax cuts to expire and imposed new taxes to pay for a dramatic expansion of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Taxes on the really, really rich have gone up even more.

If Hillary Clinton wins, taxes on the elite will at minimum stay at this level, and may even go up significantly if Democrats do well enough in congressional races to enable her to pass new legislation. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that her tax plan would raise the average tax rate for the top 1 percent by another 3.4 percentage points, and the rate for the top 0.1 percent by five points.

But if “populist” Donald Trump wins, taxes on the wealthy will go way down; in particular, Mr. Trump is calling for elimination of the inheritance tax, which these days hits only a tiny number of really yuuuge estates (a married couple doesn’t pay any tax unless its estate is worth more than $10.9 million).

When the rest of Washington asks whither Paul Ryan’s soul (don’t worry: no soul to leave), Krugman has none of it: “Just to be clear, I’m not saying that top Republicans were or are personally bigoted — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they were willing to curry favor with bigots in the service of tax cuts for the rich and financial deregulation.”

Alas, poor whites

Conservative think tanks still hatch rotten eggs. The Republican Party’s reform plan on 2002 having been consigned to ignominious exile, leaders must give interns at Koch summer camps and Heritage Action for America some work that justifies their salaries. What they have in mind:

Whether Mr. Trump prevails or the party is left to rebuild from defeat, these conservatives in think tanks, advocacy groups and the news media — and a few in political office — will be pressing for a new agenda: to update the Reagan-era playbook with an eye to working-class voters without a college education who form the Republican base. Ronald Reagan’s notions that policies that benefit the rich and big business lift all incomes now appear outmoded in an era of rising wealth inequality and stagnant wages.

“Update” is the key word. What is one of those ideas?

Rule out fully privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and reassure workers they will be exempt from cost-cutting.

• Acknowledge that universal health care is here to stay, but push for market-oriented changes.

The “but” is key; the reporter could have used “butt,” for that’s what these ideas are. To anyone who doesn’t rely on Social Security and don’t rely on Affordable Care Act plans and Medicaid subsidies, these “market-based solutions” amount to purloined drivel from human resources seminars. And what is “fully” doing modifying the verb “privatizing”? So often do reporters gloss over the subtle horrors of “entitlement reform” that their work implicitly aborbs conservative messages. Who can balk at the word “reform,” right? The choice is designed to appeal to the guilt at the heart of the liberal imagination?

Lessons learned

What I learned about Republicans from watching their convention in Cleveland:

1. They have a special affinity for Station to Station, David Bowie’s 1976 masterpiece about the kabbalah and the search for lasting love after snorting shovelfuls of cocaine.

2. Rick Perry, who no doubt keeps a framed printout of this post, wears glasses like Ronald Reagan wearing spangled purple space boots.

3. Confirming what we learned from a former ghostwriter about his attention span and probing intellect, Donald Trump was calling FOX News shooting the shit with Bill O’Reilly while Patricia Smith and the dude from Duck Dynasty did his bidding.

4. The phrase “the weaponization of grief.” It’s by Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former 2008 campaign manager, the man who didn’t light himself on fire after introducing the world to Sarah Palin.

5. For months I’ve waited for Trump to get so carried away in one of his arias of incoherence that he’ll call Hillary Clinton the b word or the c word. It’s going to happen.

6. I figured out which movie star Chuck Todd studied to perfect his haircut.

7. Gazing at the non-crowd, I think, “This is what America looked like in 1976.”

8. “Mike Pence is headed for the RNC” is a sentence I expected to hear after “Addressing the RNC is Scott Baio.”