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.”

Bob Bennett: ‘He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party’


In 2010, Colorado senator Bob Bennett got his comeuppance when his support for TARP won him the ire of Tea Party members, then at the apogee of their power. The abortion and gay marriage opponent and Patriot Act supporter famously lost a primary to the curiously illiterate Mike Lee, often considered an expert on a Constitution that froze in 1861. To quote The Magnificent Ambersons, Bennett had gotten his comeuppance — and his cup runneth over. Dying of pancreatic cancer, Bennett shared regrets with his wife and son, both of whom then spoke to The Daily Beast in a legacy-building effort:

Are there any Muslims in the hospital?” he asked.

“I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump,” Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast.

The rise of Donald Trump had appalled the three-term Utah senator, a Republican who fell victim to the Tea Party wave of the 2010 midterms. His vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, had alienated many conservative activists in his state, who chose lawyer Mike Lee as the GOP nominee for Senate instead.


As they traveled from Washington to Utah for Christmas break, Bennett approached a woman wearing a hijab in the airport.

“He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here,” his wife said. “He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party.”

“He was astonished and aghast that Donald Trump had the staying power that he had… He had absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, and I think got angry and frustrated when it became clear that the party wasn’t going to steer clear of Trumpism,” his son relayed.

We love posting these stories. A man whose senatorial tenure worsened the lives of millions of people, including his constituents, purportedly said the words he couldn’t say aloud in DC, much less Denver. Death loosens lips.


EDIT: I had no idea about Bennett’s CIA past, including involvement in the Watergate and ITT scandals.

Trump as conservative – who cares?

Charles Krauthammer shook with excitement when Donald Trump released a list of conservative justices he might nominate to the Supreme Court. Why not? It’s an updated list of the horrors that keep popping up since the days when we used Palm Pilots (I’m offended Miguel Estrada and Janice Rogers Brown didn’t make the cut). The relief on the conservative side exemplifies the gradual but eventual surrender of every principle to Trumpism, reducing to clickbait all those stories published by Slate and the like in early May about the GOP “establishment” bemoaning its candidate.

Paul Waldman:

When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.

Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”

In a section I didn’t cite, Waldman classifies Ike as a president independent of GOP orthodoxy, which is true insofar as he didn’t touch Social Security and transformed Harry Truman’s CIA into a Murder, Inc, but he also believed in balanced budgets and such.

Trump is conservative and not conservative. By showing the malleability of positions when power’s at stake, he’s called the bluff of every Republican since January 1981 who bellyached about Hayek and von Mises.

General Ross Douthat and his civil war

A time will soon come when our descendants will look at writers like Ross Douthat like the speaker in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” staring at ruins. Here’s another meteor slamming into Pangaea:

With Marco Rubio’s grudging, painful statement this week that he intends to support “the nominee” (for many Republicans, He Who Must Not Be Named), and with Paul Ryan possibly contemplating assimilation, it’s a good time to take one last look back at what I got wrong — oh, so very wrong — about the Republican Party’s leadership in the age of Donald Trump.

You and I both know this look won’t be the last. Five months and several thousand words await, not to mention the inevitable post mortem on November 9.

Before Trump’s emergence, the Republican elite was in the midst of a long-running civil war, pitting the much-hated “establishment” against the much-feared “base,” the center-right against the Tea Party, the official party leadership against a congeries of activists, media personalities and up-and-coming right-wing politicians.

The scare quotes give the game away. The “establishment” vaporized on January 20, 2009 when a black Democrat called Barack Hussein Obama put his hand on the Bible, looked Chief Justice John Roberts in the eye, and delivering the oath of office (and causing Roberts to himself fumble the words of the oath). The vapors faded when several months later a congressman named Patrick Wilson called the president of the United States a liar on national television.

But beneath the noise of battle, the establishment’s leaders and the base’s tribunes were often in near-agreement on policy (or, in some cases, on the absence thereof). The establishment wanted a more cosmopolitan and compromise-oriented party and the base a more socially conservative and combative one.

The first sentence – yep. The second – well, if you consider cutting taxes for the rich and stepping away from Mitt Romney and Bob Dole’s health plans and example of being compromise-oriented, I’ll order a round of Cosmopolitans.

Then the person whom Lord Dothan calls The Great Exposer complicated this game of bridge.

Beyond confusion and incompetence, though, there was also flirtation, normalization and finally acceptance, as a wide array of figures whose own commitments seemed incompatible with Trumpism decided that he was worth defending and eventually supporting.

Hell, no legislator wants to pass up an invitation to Sunday brunch at Cokie’s or lukewarm coffee on Chuck Todd’s show. Besides, legislators need to send their kids to private school too. They remember how good they had it in, oh, 2005.

Of course many converts to Trumpism were motivated simply by expediency, ambition, power worship.

“Many” = “all.” “Simply” = “inevitably.”

But many were clearly motivated by grudges and fears instilled by the party’s civil war, and by a sense that even though Trump might represent a grave threat to their vision of Republicanism, it would still be better to serve under his rule for a season than to risk putting their hated intraparty rivals in the catbird seat.

Now I’ve reached the diseased heart of the column. After digging a chasm as deep as a puddle between himself and the participants in his invented civil war, Douthat hints at how he’ll write the terms of his own surrender.

For those of us who have long been frustrated precisely by the smallness of those differences, the narrowness of the G.O.P. policy debate, it’s a particularly staggering result:

Sez the man who ten days ago explained how he and everyone else, including libs, want a king for president. Sez the man who wondered why gays have to be so goddamn pushy to churchgoers.

It is possible that a dishonorable, cowardly, unprincipled course will yield the result that many in both G.O.P. factions clearly crave: Trump defeated in the general election, his ideas left without a champion, and then a reversion to the party’s status quo ante, to the comforts of a tactically narrow “wacko birds versus RINOs” family feud.

But then again it’s possible that the establishment and the Tea Party are more like Byzantium and Sassanid Persia in the seventh century A.D., and Trumpism is the Arab-Muslim invasion that put an end to their long-running rivalry, destroyed the Sassanid Dynasty outright, and ushered in a very different age.

George Will is the only conservative columnist allowed to make inapposite historical and literary allusions, buddy!

Austerity and public sector jobs

A little discussed consequence of our national obsession with austerity is the depletion of the government work force. When Rick Scott cuts state jobs, he’s trimming fat, but when two thousand people find private sector jobs in Naples he can promote himself as the jobs governor. Good on them! But here’s a startling fact: once unemployed, black women were “the least likely to find private-sector employment and the most likely to make a full exit from the labor force.”

A New York Times Magazine article explains how for millions of black Americans public sector jobs represented the best hope of a middle class job.

The public sector has long been home to the sorts of jobs that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. These are jobs that have predictable hours, stable pay and protection from arbitrary layoffs, particularly for those without college or graduate degrees. They’re also more likely to be unionized; less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are represented by a union, while more than a third of those in the public sector are. In other words, they look like the blue-collar jobs our middle class was built on during the postwar years.

Then Bobby Jindal came. Then Scott Walker. Meanwhile Sam Brownback won’t stop cutting services until he can drive from Topeka to Wichita on the bodies of the poor.

The GOP: an engine harnessing ‘white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for donors’

Solid on economic policy but hobbled by a less than felicitous prose style, Paul Krugman nevertheless comes up with as succinct a definition of Republicanism as a columnist can write:

After all, what is the modern GOP? A simple model that accounts for just about everything you see is that it’s an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class.

What we call the Republican establishment is really a network of organizations that represent donor interests because they’re supported by donor money. These organizations impose ideological purity with a combination of carrots and sticks: assured support for politicians and pundits who toe the line, sanctions against anyone who veers from orthodoxy — excommunication if you’re an independent thinking pundit, a primary challenge from the Club for Growth if you’re an imperfectly reliable politician.

To a very casual observer, it may look as if this movement infrastructure engages in actual policy analysis and discussion, but that’s only a show put on for the media. Can you even imagine being unsure how a Heritage Foundation study on any significant issue will come out? The truth is that the right’s policy ideas haven’t changed in decades. Paul Ryan’s innovative idea on Medicare — let’s replace it with vouchers! — is the same proposal Newt Gingrich offered in 1995.

Gore Vidal said the Republicans weren’t a party but a pathology — and he said this in the early 2000s.

Martin Longman’s piece on the GOP disintegration uses the day when Barack Obama invited Republican leaders to Blair House in February 2010 for a discussion on the endangered Affordable Care Act.

Whatever you want to say about the ideology that drove Democrats to support the Affordable Care Act, it ought to be generously recognized that providing people access to health care was the priority, not taxing or spending to provide that access. As for the Republican opposition to the Dodd-Frank bill (and the American Recovery Act), this was more than a remarkable display of party discipline. It was an appalling display of refusal to take any responsibility for running the global economy into the Great Recession. When Dick Cheney justified Bush’s giant tax cuts by saying that Ronald Reagan had proven that budget deficits don’t matter, there was barely a peep of objection from conservative Republicans, but once Obama needed spending to save the economy, they suddenly thought the deficit was the biggest problem facing the country. They did nothing as the housing bubble inflated, pumped up by toxic under-regulated financial products and mortgage lending standards, and they bemoaned the bailout of failing colossal banks, but they couldn’t be bothered to support legislation designed to prevent a repeat of those mistakes.

But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Women who get abortions are murderers or victims. Democratic enemies are fools and charlatans, therefore Jesus. Epistemic closure, now unto eternity.

And should Hillary Clinton win in November the party is as doomed as it was in 2008, 1964, and and 1932.

Easter cheer

“This is the age of entitlement. This is the age of the victim. This is the age of the failing leader, the angry citizen, and the vulgar response,” David French writes, already masturbating over the collapse of Rome. But he’s just getting started:

This is the age where virtue is deemed too hard — too cruel — so we justify and ultimately celebrate vice. In other words, it’s an age like most other human ages — when our depravity prevails, and Christians are reminded that this world is not our home.

We live in times as terrible as the ones in which Christ walked Galilee and was ever thus. What a marvelous way to cheer a Trump presidency.

This truth should give us courage. In the age of entitlement, we should model gratitude. In the age of the victim, we should act as both servants and protectors. Virtue is not too hard because we know that God did not give us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power and love and self-control.

Correct. So let transgenders use bathrooms in North Carolina, accept responsibility for the lead water crisis in Flint, and realize that Kansas is a basket case that you couldn’t sell in Target’s reduced bin.

No matter the alleged “arc of history” or the outcome of any given culture war, there will always be a remnant, and Christ prevails. He is risen. May God bless you all.

“No matter how decisively we might lose in November and how stupid and gross our Democratic enemies, we believe Jesus will hug us like lepers.”

Happy Easter.

Encouraging pragmatism


David Atkins shakes his head over the predicted conservative brouhaha regarding Barack Obama’s remarks in Argentina (i.e. a populace chooses the economic system and system of governance that best serves it):

The result of the conservative movement’s failure to acknowledge policy realities can be seen most prominently in Kansas and Louisiana, where the red-state model of governance is failing catastrophically even as blue states like California are booming. In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the days of the Cold War when capitalism and communism vied for supremacy, there was an understanding that one’s preferred system of governance had to actually deliver results or the people would revolt and make a change. The openness of democracies and market economies allowed them to soften the sharp edges and mitigate the flaws of capitalism with a healthy dose of compensatory socialism, while the closed systems of state communism led to brutal totalitarian outcomes. So capitalism won the war of ideas and appropriately so—but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Modern Republicans have totally lost sight of that fact. For them, markets don’t exist to serve people. Rather, people exist to serve markets.

Which is to say, live by capitalism and die by capitalism. Now gay and lesbian and transgender North Carolinians must rely on market forces to redress the obscenity of its legislature’s passage of a draconian anti-LGBT law:

While San Francisco is the first governmental entity to take a stand against the law, a huge number of businesses have already spoken out. A number of technology companies — including IBM, which has a big presence in the state; PayPal, which just announced the opening of a new office there; Apple; Facebook; Google; and Salesforce — have all spoken out against the law.

In the sports world, the NBA, which is set to host the All-Star Game in Charlotte next year, has spoken out against the law and put the location of that event into question. The NCAA, which is planing to hold the men’s basketball tournament in the state in 2017 and 2018, says it’s monitoring the situation, as is the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the oldest African-American sports conference, which holds its annual basketball tournament in the state every year.

Gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans helped these businesses understand how supporting these rights is incommensurate with a healthy bottom line. I’m reminded of Fredrik deBoer’s caution about embracing systems we’re supposed to question.

The book of David

A week after flinging himself onto Eighth Avenue, David Brooks was caught by pigeons and flown back to his cubicle. An exquisitely prepared plate of crow awaited him.

This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative.

Have you spoken to Bill Kristol in the last month? He needs a Hallmark card.

For decades now the Republican Party has been groaning under the Reagan orthodoxy, which was right for the 1980s but has become increasingly obsolete. The Reagan worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.

This view was discounted after Arthur Laffer scribbled a complex theorem on a cocktail napkin that David Stockman took seriously; this was 1981. Even before Bill Clinton took the mantle of Reaganism it was “increasingly,” to use David’s favorite adverb, clear that the rich got to keep most of their dough; this was 1992.

Now along comes Donald Trump, an angel of destruction, to blow it all to smithereens. He represents not only a rejection of the existing Reaganite establishment, but also a rejection of Reaganite foreign policy (he is less globalist) and Reaganite domestic policy (he is friendlier to the state).

Trumpism will not replace Reaganism, though. Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.

Trump is promoting what Sinclair Lewis, in his book Elmer Gantry, called hucksterism. See? I can pull inapposite allusions from my asshole too.

That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on audacity, while everyone else is immobile.

The party’s conscious and unconscious mental frameworks began to disintegrate in 1980, collapsed in 2008, and have been replaced by a mixture of Mr. Clean and liquid mercury.

That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?

“How do I pitch this column to Dean Baquet if Trump wins?”

This is also a moment for redefined compassion. Trump is loveless. There is no room for reciprocity and love in his worldview. There is just winning or losing, beating or being beaten.

It is as if he was a person who received no love and tried to compensate through competition. That is an ugly, freakish and untenable representation of the human condition. Somehow the Republican Party will have to rediscover a language of loving thy neighbor, which is a primary ideal in our culture, and a primary longing of the heart.

Yeah, well, the North Carolina state assembly, enjoying the sound of its conscious and unconscious mental frameworks collapsing, wants a word with you, David, about getting mentioned in a future column. So would Rick Scott. As would Rick Snyder and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. These people and organizations know much about compensating through competition.

We’re going to have two parties in this country. One will be a Democratic Party that is moving left. The other will be a Republican Party. Nobody knows what it will be, but it’s exciting to be present at the re-creation.

Not only do you think you’re clever for garbling Dean Acheson, but you confuse “exciting” with “shit running down your leg” and still give not a good goddamn about the women and working poor your new old GOP supports.

The horror of the North Carolina experiment

Please understand: the North Carolina General Assembly went into special session to fight the evil of transgender citizens using bathrooms which don’t correspond to their birth gender. But the passed bill is worse:

On Wednesday, members who could make it in time traipsed back to Raleigh to overturn the Charlotte rule. (Some missed the session, saying they did not have time to travel.) What exactly would be in the bill remained a mystery almost up to the moment the session gaveled in—the text was made public just minutes ahead of time.

Once released, it was clear that the legislative language was more sweeping than expected. Not only does it prevent local governments from writing ordinances that allow people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with with they identify, it also preempts cities from passing their own nondiscrimination standards, saying the state’s rules—which are more conservative—supersede localities. Local school district would be barred from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate. The bill would also ban cities from passing their own minimum-wage laws.

It’s a striking example of how North Carolina’s Republicans have decided that culture war issues ought to take precedence over traditional conservative preference for local control.

By all accounts the most liberal state in the Old South, North Carolina leaped off a cliff in 2010 when its legislature decided to implement every kind of Koch Bros-tested idea about corporate non-governance. Because same sex marriage is now allowed in every state in the Union — I use the phrase for a reason — the battle has shifted towards “religious liberty” and the rights of the transgendered, the latter of whom until recently the Human Rights Campaign was willing to sacrifice for the sake of cocktail parties with the Clintons.

Understanding the Trump appeal


Poorer Latin Americans identify with Democrats because at least the latter have given them social programs on which to rely when things go badly despite those immigrants’ up-from-the-bootstraps ethos. No wonder they invest so deeply in their children’s college educations. Loath to hate government, they turn their ire on the freeloaders and bums and hijo de putas who rig the system. This is the South Florida equivalent of the Trump voter — of the voters who have endorsed Republicans in the last few election cycles, especially during midterms (Cubans don’t count because we’re elites).

Writing like a liberal who understands the stakes, Thomas Frank cautions Guardian readers to look past the racism and racist bat signals. Frank, who wrote the prescient What’s the Matter with Kansas?, understands the smugness of fellow liberals; his Guardian readers are most apt to post GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT TRUMP SAID TODAY shit on social media. Besides, he argues, it’s Democrats and their neoliberal panjandrums who collaborated with the Republicans they were so afraid to cross when Ronald Reagan made them recoil from the sight of a Social Security check. “The views of working-class people are so foreign to that universe that when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wanted to ‘engage’ a Trump supporter last week, he made one up, along with this imaginary person’s responses to his questions,” Frank writes. Racism fuels his rise, the commentariat says. Wrong, Frank says. At least partly wrong.

Last week, I decided to watch several hours of Trump speeches for myself. I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke. I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years. But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called left-wing.

Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade. In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern – not white supremacy. Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame. He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about … trade.

It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump embellished this vision with another favorite left-wing idea: under his leadership, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry.” (“We don’t competitively bid!” he marveled – another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) Trump extended the critique to the military-industrial complex, describing how the government is forced to buy lousy but expensive airplanes thanks to the power of industry lobbyists.

The administration of Barack Hussein Obama has re-sewn the social program net tighter than any predecessor since LBJ, but it’s difficult to claim, say, a health care victory when the states with GOP governors and legislatures reject the Medicaid expansion and the jobs for which these citizens qualify disappear or go overseas. I don’t what you do for them. But I understand the appeal of a guy who says he’ll force Mexico to pay for a wall and will make America great again.

‘Exposure is not expungement’

Jonathan Chait, not often right, made points this weekend:

By making race and nationalism the text rather than the subtext of Republican politics, Trump threatens not only the party’s agenda but the self-conception of its intellectual class. The conservative movement seized control of the Republican Party momentarily in 1964 during Barry Goldwater’s candidacy, and completely in the decades to come. It succeeded in large part because many whites, especially in the working class, identified the GOP as the party that would protect their security and tax dollars from black people. Conservatives prefer to deny this history. “Liberals may have been fond of claiming that Republicans were all closet bigots and that tax cuts were a form of racial prejudice, but the accusation rang hollow because the evidence for it was so tendentious,” wrote The Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens recently, citing as counter­evidence William F. Buckley’s break with a small sect of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists to help found the modern conservative movement. “Not anymore.” Now, he said, Trump had besmirched the movement’s long record of racial innocence

Except Buckley thought Southern states were correct to resist the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Well into the ’80s he defended apartheid by implying that black resistance had forced South Africa’s white ruling elite into roughhousing them.

However, Josh Marshall claims the racial rancor won’t have an influence after the party conventions:

While the Trump movement is heavily tinged by racial backlash, it’s not like all Trump backers would embrace outright white nationalists. But that’s not the point. Provocation is a feature, not a bug. But this isn’t how the great majority of the American public approaches the world or our national politics. Indeed, the divide is what’s tearing the GOP in half at the moment. Because it’s a very big chunk of the Republican party. To put this concretely, most Democrats will never support Trump for simple policy reasons, even if there are segments of the Democratic coalition that might. But what we are talking about here is a distinction between policy and political mentality, specifically a view of politics based on resentment and desire for revenge. And that operates with a large minority but not close to a majority of the electorate.

This sounds correct. It’s what many of us have said. But neither Muslim nor black, I don’t have to regard the “distinction between policy and political mentality” as an abhorrence. Only an American citizen who doesn’t wince at the stirring of racial, ethnic, and religious resentments at Trump rallies can claim the high ground so calmly. I’ve said in conversation that such grotesqueries should get exposed. But exposure is not expungement. And what price?