When will Trump supporters have had enough

Work and life have been crazy the past week, so, sorry about the no blogging.  But this Megan McArdle column was too good to let pass by.  McArdle asks, “When will Trump supporters finally say, ‘Okay, this is not normal’?”

Ohhhhh, I think we all know the answer to that.  Anyway…

The left had an easy time settling on its attitude toward President Trump’s supporters: a mixture of horrified outrage and sneering contempt. For many of us on the right, though, it hasn’t been so easy. The president’s boosters aren’t our natural enemies; they’re former and hopefully future allies. For three years, we’ve been struggling to find some way to discuss Trump.

We don’t want to destroy Trump supporters but to convince them — that Trump’s main life achievements before the presidency lay in the fields of getting publicity, cheating people less powerful than himself and having a rich, politically connected father who could grease his way into the real estate business, rather than negotiating, managing or building; that impulsive, thin-skinned and belligerent people might be a great deal of fun to watch on television or Twitter but are rarely much good at their jobs; that Trump’s inexperience and lack of interest in policy have made him remarkably ineffective at pursuing even his stated political goals; and that the cost of his inexperience, his indifference to the day-to-day work of the presidency and his bitterly divisive rhetoric are not worth the transient joy of watching liberals have conniptions.

I wish I could say our attempts at persuasion have worked. Some of our former comrades agree with the indictment but argue that the liberal establishment’s radicalism has left them no choice but to support the race-baiting vulgarian. The religious right, in particular, senses an existential threat from a combination of overweening government and “woke capitalism,” and feels compelled to throw in with anyone who promises to fight on its side. Others simply write off our dismay as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or a desire to finally fit in at the proverbial Georgetown cocktail party.

Many days I wonder if I shouldn’t just concede defeat. And then … Greenland. Once more unto the breach.

This is a president who canceled a state visit because the prime minister of Denmark declined to sell part of Danish territory to the United States. Can you really look at that sort of behavior and think Trump’s critics have the derangement problem?


Support the candidate you like best

This from Paul Waldman is so spot-on and so needed right now:

If you talk to the reporters who are following Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail, they’ll tell you that, while the race is extremely fluid and voters express interest in lots of the candidates, the one generating the most passionate excitement is unquestionably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Yet in most polls she comes in second or third, close to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) but still well behind Joe Biden.

Why? Here’s a New York Times report that summarizes it well:

Few candidates inspire as much enthusiasm as she does among party voters, too, from the thousands who turned out for her speech at the Iowa State Fair last weekend to the supporters in this western Iowa city who repeat her catchphrases, wear her buttons and describe themselves as dazzled by her intellect and liberal ideas. …

These Democrats worry that her uncompromising liberalism would alienate moderates in battleground states who are otherwise willing to oppose the president. Many fear Ms. Warren’s past claims of Native American ancestry would allow Mr. Trump to drown out her policy message with his attacks and slurs against her. They cite her professorial style and Harvard background to argue that she might struggle to connect with voters from more modest circumstances than hers, even though she grew up in a financially strained home in Oklahoma.

And there are Democrats who, chastened by Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, believe that a woman cannot win in 2020.

What follows are a bunch of quotes from voters attesting to how much they love Warren but worry that other people might not like her. [emphasis mine] And so we witness the vicious cycle of ”electability,” one almost immune to facts and experience, in which both savvy journalists and ordinary voters convince themselves that general elections are won by candidates who don’t turn off the mythical average voter, achieving that majority appeal that can be heard when the electorate cries as one, “He’s okay, I guess. I mean, could be worse.”

Like President Mitt Romney. Or President John F. Kerry. Or President Al Gore…

There are a whole set of unspoken assumptions at play when we call a particular candidate “electable.” First, we assume that an electable candidate is one who can reach across the middle to persuade not just independents but people who belong to the other party. That leads journalists and pundits — people who are deeply immersed in politics and have a clear understanding of ideological differences — to conclude that ideological moderation is what makes someone electable, as opposed to charisma or persuasive messaging or anything else.

Next, we assume that to be electable, a candidate will have to appeal to a voter with a particular demographic profile. And who is that voter? After the approximately 12 trillion “In Trump Country, Trump Supporters Support Trump” articles that have been published in major news outlets over the past 2½ years, we’ve come to assume that the voters who matter to electability are middle-aged white men in the Midwest. Appeal to them, and you’re electable; if you’re not the type of candidate we think they’ll be attracted to, you must not be.

What nobody suggests is that electability might be a function of getting your own party’s voters excited and engaged. That’s despite the fact that we’ve seen one election after another in recent decades in which a candidate who excited his party defeated a candidate whose own voters were lukewarm about their nominee. Barack Obama was not electable by any of the standards we’re applying to the 2020 candidates, but he won twice, and by substantial margins. Donald Trump was not remotely electable, but he won, too.

The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will be…

Somebody from among Biden, Booker, Harris, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg.  Those are the 6 strongest candidates now among donors (really nice post on the Party not deciding from SMOTUS) and I would be genuinely surprised, though definitely not shocked if the nominee were not from among these six.  And, of these, I personally give Biden, Harris, and Warren the best chance.  I really think Booker’s got a real chance to come on (wishful thinking, maybe) and Buttigieg continues to impress people.  And, actually, I probably should not include Bernie, as I really don’t think he’ll be the nominee, but, there’s a chance.

Anyway, the larger point is that primaries are really so volatile and, largely unlike general elections, the events of the campaign actually matter.  General elections are so shaped by economic factors, presidential approval, and partisanship, that there’s just not much room for much else, other than the occasional, but rare, Comey letter or Access Hollywood tape.  But what these candidates say in debates (as filtered through the media), the things they do that draw themselves attention (or lead to them getting ignored) will matter.

A tweet earlier this week from elections analyst extraordinaire, Sean Trene, really captures it:

Short version, political science tells us that the ultimate nominee is very likely to be from among this current top group, but no real basis to say who it will be.  What these candidates do and say and how the media covers it will play a huge role in who wins this nomination.  Anybody who says, “well, based on x, y, and, z, the nominee will surely be XXX” is full of it.  We just can’t know now.  And that’s the fun of it.  And, if you think back to 2016 there was a whole bunch of stuff that fell just right for Trump in terms of his competitors, how they fared in various states, etc., and it is not hard at all to craft an alternate scenario where he was not the winner.

So, who do I think it will be?  Not Biden.  I think eventually his campaign will fall under the weight of the fact that he’s really just not a good candidate.  I actually think it will be Warren or Harris because they are both good at this.  But Booker’s my dark horse right now to really pick up when Biden fades.  But, I could be totally off.  We’ll see…


You already know why we are “losing the battle” with White Nationalist Terrorism

A nice article in Time addresses, “Why America Is Losing the Battle Against White Nationalist Terrorism.”  You will be entirely unsurprised:

From 2009 through 2018, the far right has been responsible for 73% of domestic extremist-related fatalities, according to a 2019 study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). And the toll is growing. More people–49–were murdered by far-right extremists in the U.S. last year than in any other year since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress in July that a majority of the bureau’s domestic-terrorism investigations since October were linked to white supremacy.  [emphases mine]

Yet the nation’s leaders [umm, “leaders” of one party here] have failed to meet this menace. In more than a dozen interviews with TIME, current and former federal law-enforcement and national-security officials described a sense of bewilderment and frustration as they watched warnings go ignored and the white-supremacist terror threat grow. Over the past decade, multiple attempts to refocus federal resources on the issue have been thwarted. Entire offices meant to coordinate an interagency response to right-wing extremism were funded, staffed and then defunded in the face of legal, constitutional and political concerns.

Today, FBI officials say just 20% of the bureau’s counterterrorism field agents are focused on domestic probes. This year alone, those agents’ caseload has included an investigation into an Ohio militia allegedly stockpiling explosives to build pipe bombs; a self-professed white-supremacist Coast Guard officer who amassed an arsenal in his apartment in the greater Washington, D.C., area; an attack in April at a synagogue outside San Diego that killed one; and the July 28 assault at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., that killed three. Cesar Sayoc, a 57-year-old man from Florida, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Aug. 5 after pleading guilty to mailing 16 pipe bombs to Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump.

The FBI has warned about the rising domestic threat for years, but has not had a receptive audience in the White House. As a result, agency leadership hasn’t historically prioritized white-supremacist violence even among homegrown threats, for years listing “eco-terrorism” as the top risk, former special agent Michael German told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in May…

Right-wing terrorism is a global problem, resulting in devastating attacks from New Zealand to Norway. But it is particularly dangerous in the U.S., which has more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world, an epidemic of mass shootings, a bedrock tradition of free speech that protects the expression of hateful ideologies and laws that make it challenging to confront a disaggregated movement that exists largely in the shadows of cyberspace…

Then there is the problem of a Commander in Chief whose rhetoric appears to mirror, validate and potentially inspire that of far-right extremists…

Johnson, who led a six-person group at DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis, began working on a report about the rise of right-wing extremism. It warned that white nationalists, antigovernment extremists and members of other far-right groups were seizing on the economic crisis and Obama’s ascension to recruit new members. Johnson was preparing to release his report when a similar study by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, meant for law-enforcement officers, was leaked to the public in February 2009. The paper, titled “The Modern Militia Movement,” linked members of these militias to fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion or anti-immigration movements.

The report was pilloried by GOP groups and politicians for singling out conservatives as possible criminals. Missouri officials warned Johnson about the blowback he could expect for publishing a similar analysis. But Johnson, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, says he thought the DHS lawyers and editors who worked on the report would provide a layer of protection from GOP criticism. “I didn’t think the whole Republican Party would basically throw a hissy fit,” he recalls.

Of course there are violent people motivated by left-wing ideologies.  There are violent Islamic terrorists.  But we clearly have a problem with far-right, white ethnocentric domestic terrorism.  And a Republican Party committed to pretending that is not our reality because… the ethnocentric rhetoric that motivates those extremists also animates the non-violent masses that vote Republican.

Meanwhile on a sane planet

People would care that we have a president that promotes baseless and scurrilous conspiracy theories.  Frum:

August 10, 1969: San Clemente, California—President Richard Nixon accused his predecessor Lyndon Baines Johnson of complicity in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Speaking with reporters on the first day of a 10-day stay at his Pacific Ocean vacation home …

Of course, that never happened. Obviously. How could it; how dare it? But hadit happened, such an accusation—by a president, against a former president—would have convulsed the United States and the world. Today, President Donald Trump accused his predecessor Bill Clinton—or possibly his 2016 campaign opponent, the former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—of complicity in the death of the accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Many seem to have responded with a startled shrug. What do you expect? It’s just Trump letting off steam on Twitter.

Reactions to actions by Trump are always filtered through the prism of the ever more widely accepted view—within his administration, within Congress, within the United States, and around the world—that the 45th president is a reckless buffoon; a conspiratorial, racist moron, whose weird comments should be disregarded by sensible people. [bold is mine; italics in original]

By now, Trump’s party in Congress, the members of his Cabinet, and even his White House entourage all tacitly agree that Trump’s occupancy of the office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Eisenhower must be a bizarre cosmic joke, not to be taken seriously. CNN’s Jake Tapper on August 2 quoted a “senior national security official” as saying: “Everyone at this point ignores what the president says and just does their job. The American people should take some measure of confidence in that.”

[litany of bad policy]

Compared with that, mere slurs and insults perhaps weigh lighter in the crushing Dumpster-load of Trump’s output of unfitness for the office he holds.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten, either, in the onrush of events. The certainty that Trump will descend ever deeper into subbasements of “new lows” after this new low should not numb us to its newness and lowness.

Neither the practical impediments to impeachment and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment process, nor the foibles and failings of the candidates running to replace him, efface the fact that this presidency shames and disgraces the office every minute of every hour of every day. And even when it ends, however it ends, the shame will stain it still.

But somehow we go on (mostly) pretending the president is not an incompetent buffoon, taking him neither literally or seriously.  And to be clear, there’s some very real blame for this– Republican politicians.  The press reports this crap.  Democrats and a few well-meaning Republicans care, but McConnell, McCarthy, Fox News, etc., have made it clear that this is just Trump and he may be an incompetent buffoon, but he’s our incompetent buffoon.  And as long as they don’t stand up to this, the rest of us are just stuck with it.

Data vs. Republicans

Of course it is so patently ridiculous to anybody who knows anything about the actual world that our epidemic of gun violence has to do with a lack of religiosity by Americans.  I mean, come on– so, so stupid.  Alas, Mike Huckabee and other Republican politicians have said exactly this.  But, I appreciate Sociology professor Philip Zuckerman going all social scientist and showing us just how stupid this is:

The interesting thing about this hypothesis is that it is easy to test. You’ve got an independent variable (faith in God) and a dependent variable (gun violence). The hypothesis put forth by Huckabee and other Christian moralizers comes down to this: When a given society has a higher amount of faith in God, the rate of gun violence should be correspondingly lower. Conversely, the lower the amount of faith in God, the higher the rate of gun violence.

But social science finds the exact opposite correlation.

The facts show that strong faith in God does not diminish gun violence, nor does a lack of such faith increase gun violence.

Here’s one crystal-clear example: Faith in God is extremely high in the Philippines. One study found that the country “leads the world” in terms of its strength of faith in God, with 94% of people there saying they have always believed in God. Comparatively, the Czech Republic, is one of the most atheistic nations in the world, with only about 20% of Czechs believing in God. According to Huckabee’s hypothesis, violence and murder rates should be much worse in the Czech Republic and much better in the Philippines.

But the reality is different: The murder rate in the Philippines is nearly 10 times higher than it is in the Czech Republic, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

This same correlation holds true for nearly every country in the world: Those with the strongest rates of belief in God — such as El Salvador, Columbia, Honduras, Jamaica, and Yemen — tend to experience the most violence, while those with the lowest rates — such as Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand and Australia — tend to experience the lowest levels of violence. [emphases mine]

Are there exceptions? Yes. For example, New Zealand experienced a horrific mass shooting in March. Norway did as well, in 2011. But when looking at averages and correlations over time, the statistical relationship they reveal is unambiguous: Huckabee’s hypothesis doesn’t hold water.

By any standard measure, the safest countries in the world are highly secularized nations like Iceland, Denmark, Canada, Slovenia and South Korea — where faith in God is very low. And the most dangerous countries include fervently faithful places such as the Central African Republic, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela and Belize — places steeped in faith in God.

But the analysis can also be applied closer to home, to the 50 states. According to the Pew Religious Landscape survey, the states with the strongest levels of faith in God include Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Those with the lowest levels of belief in God are Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. And, as expected, when it comes to homicide rates and violent crime rates in general, the least faithful states in America tend to experience far less than the most faithful.

Of course, there are many different reasons that some nations — or states — have higher rates of violence. For instance, higher rates of gun ownership have been tied to higher rates of domestic homicides. Factors like economics, politics, culture and a host of other aspects of social life also play their part.

But that’s the point. People’s relationship with the divine doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with it. Huckabee’s hypothesis needs to be rejected not only because it is statistically incorrect, but because it’s also inhumane: By blaming mass shootings on a lack of God-worship, he is implicitly asserting that the many victims of gun violence, well, deserved it.

Of course, when has the modern incarnation of the Republican party ever let a little something like overwhelming empirical evidence get in the way of what they want to believe.

Biden really doesn’t get it

Joe Biden remains, for now, stubbornly atop the polls, but this really is really early.  I like to point out that in summer 2007, John McCain’s campaign was seen as dead-in-the-water and he, of course, went on to be the Republican nominee.  So, sure Biden still probably has a better chance than any other contender, but I still think, that, ultimately, a stronger candidate will defeat him.  In large part, because his weaknesses as a candidate (and I believe the gaffes are over-rated) will become increasingly manifest under increasing attention and scrutiny.  Anyway, some good stuff last week from Paul Waldman:

…according to The Post’s latest tally, four more candidates have said they’d get rid of it (including Jay Inslee and Steve Bullock), and another 12 have said they’re open to the idea.

But the person leading all the primary polls, former vice president Joe Biden, is not among them. He reiterated that on Thursday when he told reporters, “Ending the filibuster is a very dangerous move.”

This might seem like some kind of arcane debate about parliamentary procedures, but it’s far more important. In fact, the fate of the next presidency and everything Democrats want to accomplish could depend on the answer to this question. While we spend a lot of time probing the distinctions between the candidates’ policies, such as whether they support Medicare-for-all or something more incremental, the filibuster question is even more vital for primary voters to understand and consider.

It’s not surprising that the Democrats running for president have been evolving on the issue. They’re no doubt hearing about it from activist Democrats, who are both fed up with Republican obstruction and eager for ambitious policy change. And the more they talk to voters about all the things they want to accomplish, the more obvious it probably seems that they won’t be able to do it with the filibuster in place.

And we should note how absurdly undemocratic the filibuster is in an institution that even on its best day gives disproportionate power to small states. It allows the 21 smallest states, which together account for only 11 percent of the American population, to veto anything the other 8 out of 9 Americans want.

But Biden, despite having watched Senate Republicans use the filibuster thwart Barack Obama’s legislative agenda for eight years, still has nostalgic feelings about the institution where he spent 36 years. And he has insisted ever since beginning his campaign that once President Trump is out of office, Republicans will wake as if from a dream, rub their eyes and join with him in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation. “With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change,” he has said. “Because these folks know better.”…

Except they don’t. What they actually know is two things: They despise the entire Democratic agenda, and obstruction has been an extremely effective tactic for them, allowing them to thwart progressive change while paying no political price. They are not interested in bipartisan cooperation. Why would they be? [emphases mine]

And Chait:

Yet none of the Democratic senators running for president can match Biden’s adoration. The Senate’s traditions form his model for how politics ought to be conducted. “The system’s worked pretty damn well,” Biden recently told a reporter. “It’s called the Constitution. It says you have to get a consensus to get anything done.” In his presidential announcement speech, Biden frontally challenged the notion that the system had changed and made large-scale bipartisanship obsolete. “Some of these people are saying, ‘Biden just doesn’t get it. You can’t work with Republicans anymore. That’s not the way it works anymore.’ Well, folks, I’m going to say something outrageous. I know how to make government work — not because I’ve talked or tweeted about it, but because I’ve done it. I’ve worked across the aisle to reach consensus.” A key tenet of Senatitis is the belief that any negative developments in politics are but temporary setbacks, not in any way resulting from systemic incentives, and can be overcome though force of personality.

Voters lap up this kind of happy talk, so Biden would have reason to say this kind of thing even if he knew better. But if he were saying this out of political calculation, it would be odd that he would express the idea in such an uncalculating way — Democrats running for president in the 21st century usually try not to go out of the way to associate themselves with segregationists.

In any case, Biden has been delivering his senatorial restoration riff for so long, and so insistently, that there’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. Biden’s 2007 memoir laments “our bitter and partisan party divisions,” but insists, “from inside the arena none of it feels irreversible or fatal.” The dozen years since, under three presidents, ought to have confirmed that the partisan trend was indeed irreversible. Yet Biden did not seem to grasp that “the arena” he was “inside” was a bubble all along.

I’m for any Democrat who can beat Trump.  And I really think most of them can.  But, for a variety of reasons, I think Biden would make a particularly poor choice to actually be president.  And that matters.