I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but Trump’s Supreme Court pick is the perfect opportunity.  I think to some degree, Trump has too many liberals in hysterics over everything.  As awful has Trump has been– and that’s pretty awful– a fair amount of what he has done– both cabinet nominations and executive orders– would have been entirely predictable from almost any other Republican politician.

I’ve therefore encouraged my students to use the “What Would Mike Pence do?” standard.  Sure, a good liberal will hate the ideology of Trump’s Supreme Court pick, the abortion gag rule, executive orders paving the way for a repeal of the ACA, etc.  Liberals can, and should, complain about these things.  But, this is just normal politics.  Trump is a horrible president, horrible person, and a profound threat to our democracy.  But the truth is, most of what he does will be what any Republican president would do.  It’s counter-productive to the attention demanded on the genuine threats Trump poses by conflating “normal” partisan politics with it.

It’s crazy, scary, and surreal to have to judge a president by the absurdly low bar of, “at least his Supreme Court pick wasn’t totally crazy.”  But there we are.  And Neil Gorsuch is almost a Republican Supreme Court nominee from central casting, so, yeah, actually, I am pleased.  Sure, he’s way conservative, but it least he is clearly smart and thoughtful, too– so not a gimme with Trump doing the nominating).   Excellent Gorsuch explainer from Dylan Matthews.

Jennifer Victor— who’s been a Political Scientist inspiration of late– has a terrific post that conveys a lot of similar ideas:

These actions have been decried by liberals as being regressive and are a clear attempt to roll back some of the progressive policy achievements of the Obama administration. We should expect liberals to oppose such policies, just as we would have expected conservatives to have been vocally opposed to early actions by a Hillary Clinton administration. While further actions of these types may directly and negatively affect segments of the population (i.e., those who will lose health insurance, see taxes raised, or restrict migration with our southern neighbor), they can generally be labeled as being consistent with the conservative ideology the Republican Party has supported for several decades…

On the other hand, another category of Trump administration actions is more pernicious. The second category of actions should be of concern to all Americans. The president of the United States has begun taking a series of actions that have caused government scholars to raise red flags. Many political scientists have expressed grave concern over the health and stability of our government system, based on observations of Trump administration actions. Scholars have expressed particular concern about administration actions that are either inconsistent with our democratic republic or consistent with authoritarian forms of government.

For example, the president had openly questioned the veracity and integrity of the country’s vast professional intelligence community, and expressed greater willingness to believe claims made by foreign adversaries. This raises alarms for government scholars because if the president is unwilling to believe the intelligence he receives from his own agencies, and is more likely to believe conspiracy theories or claims made by foreign non-allied states, it calls into question his ability and willingness to make foreign and military policy choices that are in the best interests of the country…

Making these distinctions is difficult and sometimes ambiguous. This is why, as I have argued previously, it is imperative for scholars of government and politics to be vocal about their observations. Our expertise has perhaps never been more relevant or needed.

Social scientists have a tendency to be reticent to exercise their political voice for fear of appearing partisan — but making clear that some political actions can severely disrupt government, civil society, the national economy, and security is a nonpartisan observation.

Political scientists have important knowledge and skills. Scholars of American politics understand our existing Constitution and political institutions that have held together our democratic republic for nearly 250 years. Scholars of comparative politics understand authoritarianism and regime change and the factors that contribute to state collapse. International relations scholars understand the conditions for peace, international order, and basic human rights…

A doctor, whose primary job is to treat her own patients in her practice, who walks down the street past an injured person and does not stop to offer medical assistance is ethically in the wrong. The doctor who has the skills to prevent a human death has a professional responsibility to come to the aid of the injured person. It is the same for political science. Saving our government is not our mission or our primary job, but it is our ethical professional responsibility to contribute our voice, knowledge, and insight.

The country and world needs assistance in understanding the unprecedented actions of the new American administration. We are professionally trained to provide the appropriate context and evidence about what is happening. Scholars, journalists, and other experts can help distinguish between partisan policy proposals and administrative changes that threaten the constitution and republic. Speak, write, question, post, lecture, comment. The republic is worth it. [emphasis mine]

So, where can I get my WWMPD? bracelets made?

Photo of the day

From a Telegraph gallery of best drone photos of 2016:

Despectus wins first place in the Skypixel enthusiast drones in use competition. 

Despectus wins first place in the Skypixel enthusiast drones in use competition.  Credit: SKYPIXEL

Paul Ryan does have a spine

It’s just a twisted and greedy one.  Love this from Chait:

Paul Ryan, who used to regularly signal his displeasure with Donald Trump, has backed Trump to the hilt since the election. And so the newest meme has been born: Paul Ryan has no spine. Andy Borowitz and ClickHole have columns riffing on the Spineless Paul Ryan meme, and somebody even edited the Wikipedia invertebrate page to add the House Speaker.

It is true that Ryan does not care about the principles he claims to care about. But it’s inaccurate to imagine him as merely a soulless careerist. Ryan does have serious principles. He is deeply committed to the principle of liberating the affluent from the burdens of progressive taxation. That description may sound like an arch comment to those of us who don’t share Ryan’s bent. But to people like Ryan, it is a moral conviction of the highest order.

Ryan has repeatedly cited the influence in his younger days of such works as Wealth and Poverty, by George Gilder; The Way the World Works, by Jude Wanniski, plus, of course, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. These books treat the struggle against progressive taxation as the fundamental project of politics. The central problem of mass-participatory politics, in this view, is its tendency to allow the masses of voters to gang up on the rich (whether through democratic or undemocratic means) and redistribute their deserved rewards to themselves. It is tempting to dismiss his fixation with the top tax rate as greed on behalf of his donors, but to adherents of this ideology there is nothing more serious.

Obviously, the defense of the right of the one percent to keep its earnings is an unpopular basis for political messaging. And so Ryan has an ecumenical view of the political message needed to sell his policies. He is happy to posture as a fanatical debt hawk if debt-hawkery is a promising vehicle to advance the goal of cutting taxes for the rich, but he will also support and even demand massively higher deficits if that is what is needed. Ryan has promoted outreach to Latinos and other socially moderate constituencies as a practical step toward expanding his party’s base. Ryan continued to defend those policies before the election, when it looked probable that Trump would lose, and he would need to rebuild in the wake of the expected defeat. But he is also perfectly willing to abandon those policies if he happens to have a race-baiting Republican prepared to sign his cherished tax cuts into law.

Ryan might supplicate himself to limitless acts of corruption or misrule by Trump, but he would never stand silent if Trump attempted to implement even a tiny tax increase on the highest-earning one percent. I happen to find Ryan’s belief system to be rather deranged. But it is a belief system. [bold is mine, italics in original]

Yep.  I think that pretty well nails it.

About that “replace”

Sure, there’s been plenty of other stuff to occupy our attention, but part of the reason we haven’t really heard much about replacing Obamacare is because Republicans are hopelessly gridlocked among themselves based on what they say they want to do, what they’ve promised, they ways they complain about the law, and their anti-government-damn-the-costs ideology.  Sarah Kliff offers a nice explanation:

Even when Democrats were split on how to expand coverage in 2009, they still were all working toward the same goal. They all agreed that whatever bill they came up with should lead to millions of Americans gaining coverage, particularly the type of people who had struggled to obtain coverage in the past (people who are older and sicker generally). There was a key principle at the heart of the party’s policymaking.

 But Republicans don’t seem to have this — it’s not clear what particular objective their policymaking is striving toward, aside from dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Sometimes their words and their plans point in opposite directions. [emphases mine]

You would think from the rhetoric of conservative legislators that the problem is what people have to pay out of pocket: that the deductibles under Obamacare are far too high.

“Many people who have insurance can’t even use it because they have $10,000 or higher deductibles,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told Fox News this weekend. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) lamented in his confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary that “you have deductibles that have escalated to $6,000 to $12,000.”

 Or as President Trump put it to Sean Hannity last week: “The deductibles are so high that unless you get hit by a tractor, you will never be able to use it.”

The rhetoric is incredibly unified on this issue: Cost sharing under the health law is far too high. But the actual policies Republicans are developing move in the opposite direction. They don’t do anything like limit the size of deductibles in the marketplace, or cap out-of-pocket spending. Instead, most envision high-deductible health plans as an even more prominent part of the health care system

This is a debate we could be having about health care: about whether it would be better to make the overall cost of the law cheaper by moving toward high-deductible plans. You could envision a world in which Republicans say the government ought to take less of a role in health care and Americans have to become better shoppers as they face high-deductible plans.

But this isn’t what is happening — Republicans don’t seem, right now, to be working toward the goal of lowering deductibles or expanding coverage or anything else. They’re working toward the goal of repealing Obamacare, without a particularly clear vision of what exactly comes next. Until Republican rhetoric and policy come into line, it will be awfully hard for the party to come to any kind of consensus.

I really have no idea how this will turn out, but I do feel pretty confident that there will not have repeal and delay or just plain full repeal.  But how Republicans manage to make sense of the competing messages and policy priorities is a mystery to me.  And them.

The key dynamic now: Republicans support Trump

This Upshot piece from Kyle Dropp and Brendan Nyhan is essential reading for understanding the current political dynamics.  As I’ve been saying in far more abbreviated form, forget overall opinion, the key right now is that Trump has strong support among Republican voters.  Here’s two key graphs (and an aside to say I hate that it’s easy to embed a twitter photo, but NYT makes it hard to embed their images):

And the analysis:

Despite the growing protests against President Trump’s executive action on refugees and other people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, relatively few members of his party have spoken out against the policy — a familiar pattern since the election. To date, no congressional Republicans have consistently resisted Mr. Trump or his agenda even though his approval ratings are already historically low for a new president.

Although some Republicans may fear a voter backlash in the midterm election, the greatest threat to re-election for most G.O.P. members of Congress is still a primary challenge. That’s what many legislators probably fear they will get if they oppose Mr. Trump, who is viewed overwhelmingly favorably among their partisan base, according to polling data…

While many Republicans face risks if they publicly oppose the president, relatively few have to worry about being defeated in a general election. In the House of Representatives, for instance, only a small number of party members represent districts won by Hillary Clinton. For most of them, a primary challenge is a far greater threat — one that several anti-Trump Republicans are already anticipating. Republicans are also heavily insulated from public opinion in 2018 Senate races, which feature only two G.O.P. incumbents who are seen as potentially vulnerable in the general election…

However, 54 percent of registered voters in districts represented by Republicans viewed Mr. Trump favorably compared with only 42 percent who view him unfavorably. More important, people who identify with the party overwhelmingly view him favorably. In districts represented by Republicans, fully 87 percent of registered Republicans view Mr. Trump favorably.

Support for Mr. Trump in G.O.P. districts is even higher among registered Republicans who are extremely interested in politics (94 percent favorable), identify as strong Republicans (92 percent favorable) or say they are very conservative (94 percent favorable). These groups are especially likely to vote in primaries and are key constituencies in nomination contests for higher office. As a result, they wield disproportionate influence on legislator behavior. [emphasis mine]

When those graphs above change, that’s when the current dynamic changes.  Until then, get used to largely unchecked, horrible presidenting.

No more vending machines!

Among my favorite signs at the protest yesterday, “fear is the mindkiller.”  Of course, should really be irrational fear, and that is sure as hell what we see with xenophobia and refugees.  From the Financial Times:

Taking it to the streets

Or the front of the airport terminal, as the case may be.  Was very excited to have our very own refugee ban protest at the Raleigh-Durham airport yesterday.  For the first time ever, the whole Greene family went to a protest together.  As I said on Facebook, the family that protests together, stays together.  It was a great crowd and all the kids seemed to enjoy the energy of it.  Oh, yeah, and it felt good to stand up for our beliefs.  Here’s the N&O story.

Outside RDU’s Terminal 2, chants including “No ban, no wall” and “refugees are welcome here” were heard throughout the three-hour protest. Cheers rang out every time a new airport shuttle carrying demonstrators arrived, adding to a crowd that airport officials estimated at more than 1,000. With a permit originally approved for only 150 people, the crowd grew so large it shut down traffic to the upper level of the terminal.

And, count on Dallas Woodhouse with absurd comments:

The head of North Carolina’s Republican Party, Dallas Woodhouse, said that the United States will always welcome immigrants but that the president is installing a system that “puts America first.”

“We will make sure the people entering this country, broadly speaking, do so legally and within the rules,” Woodhouse said in a phone interview. “The first question we’re going to be asking is does this person coming here serve the interest of the American people? Do they want to cause harm to us?”

Woodhouse said there are imperfections in the travel ban that would be fixed.

“When you have a president that is fundamentally reasserting a strong patriotic system that puts American interests first, there’s always going to be some details that need to get worked out,” Woodhouse said.

Competent people work out the details first, or at least try to.  And “a strong patriotic system”?  Please.

Anyway, here’s a couple of photos.  As for the great slogan on David’s sign, you’ll not be surprised to learn I thought of it, given my need to call out false Christianity.  But my wife came up with adding the #alternativefacts, which makes it 100x better. Evan came up with “Dump Trump” on his own :-).

img_1517 img_1523

Not Normal (vol. XXII)

Worth pointing out how abnormally unpopular Trump is early in his presidency.

Of course, the large majority of Republicans still supports him.  As long as that’s the case, he can wreak plenty of havoc.  Once that drops below 50% among Republicans (probably unlikely, but if anybody can do it, it’s Trump), Republicans in Congress starts abandoning ship and things get really interesting.

Quick hits (part II)

I’ve been spending too much time reading about refugee stuff to pick out good quotes, so a largely quote-free version of quick hits:

1) Benjamin Wittes on the Trump and the completely inappropriate approach to the CIA.

2) And this is insane.  Bannon on National Security Council.  Chairman of Joint Chiefs off?!  WTF?!!

3) Duke fan or not, this essay from current interim coach Jeff Capel on his father (also a long-time coach) and ALS is terrific.

4) Older siblings typically out-perform the younger on average.  Interesting mix of theories as to why.  (And if you are reading this David Greene, let it incentive you to keep up with other older siblings).

5) When I first saw Trump had declared a “Day of Patriotic Devotion” I thought it was the Onion or something.  WTF??  It’s like North Korea.

6) Bill McKibben on the many, many more bad days to come for the environment.  In fairness to Trump, most Republicans seem to hate the environment.

7) Thought this was a really interesting finding that the ACT Science Reading  sections literally make the ACT a worse predictor of college grades than just relying upon math and English.  Sorry, David Greene, you still have to take the whole thing.  (In case you were wondering, my firstborn does regularly read my blog now– I’m going to have to be more careful with some things).

8) Smart guy, good guy, and friend from grad school, David Kimball, with a nice piece on actually effective and meaningful voter reforms instead of Voter ID.

9) Love this Political Science Call to Action from Jennifer Victor.  So going to live by this:

So how do we maintain our credibility as a scientific discipline while engaging in the public sphere in a way that shows normative judgment? I have some advice:

A political scientist’s guide to responsible public action:

  • When you observe or learn about proposals or actions that represent threats to democratic institutions or that violate the Constitution, point it out in public.
  • Write, speak, and post in a variety of venues in a way that uses the research and literature in our field to demonstrate the consequences of proposals that threaten basic institutions.
  • Be specific and matter-of-fact about how actions or proposals may weaken or violate basic American values and democratic norms.
  • Focus on the agreed upon values of American democracy (e.g., civil liberties, civil rights, due process, respect for the rule of law) rather than on partisan or ideological components of actions and proposals.
  • Engage with the media, public, and one another, on these matters; seek venues that provide broad exposure rather than speaking to a disciplinary audience, as is typical.
  • Focus on evidence-based and theoretically rigorous findings that shed light on, or provide appropriate context to, current events.

By being objective and scientific, we remain neutral, while showing how actions and proposals violate or threaten basic democratic institutions. Articulating and elucidating the public on these points is not only consistent with our academic mission; it is our responsibility.

10) Larry Summers says it’s time for business leaders to wake up about Trump.  Hell, yeah!  That said, we know that partisanship is stronger than religion.  It’s probably also stronger than the profit motive.

11) Jamelle Bouie, “OK, Now Can We Start Taking Donald Trump Literally?”

12) Here’s why you should call, not email your legislators.  For real.

13) Of course Trump’s tough-guy talk on torture risks lives.  I cannot believe we have to go through this again!  Ugh, the combined stupid and evil!!

14) John Cassidy on Republican politicians sticking with Trump (tax cuts for rich people!!)

15) Wilbur Ross and government by the ultra-wealthy.

16) Speed reading is great— so long as you are not interested in understanding what you read.  Interesting discussion of the cognitive science behind why it doesn’t really work.  And how to read faster (read more).

17) David Brooks on the politics of cowardice.

18) These nice little HuffPo graphic seems well-sourced, so I’m going with it.  I’m really waiting for the armed toddler crackdown.

19) Emma Green asks, “Will the Pro-Life Movement Split With Trump on Issues Other Than Abortion?”  Ummmm, no.  The Pro-Life movement is largely conservative Christians, and we’ve seen they put the Republican party ahead of the actual teachings of Jesus most anytime.

20) Must read from a Reagan speechwriter on Trump and Holocaust remembrance day.

21) Benjamin Wittes on the refugee executive order, “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence.”


Evil and stupid

I haven’t had to use the “evil or stupid” formulation in a while, since it has been a long time since Republicans were driving policy in this regard.  But, I can unequivocally claim that Trump’s Muslim refugee order is very evil and very stupid.  Obviously, this is horribly inhumane.  And it is just stupid is that completely feeds right into the hands of ISIS, etc., who try and convince other Muslims that the US is anti-Muslim (surely, it helps them when we actually are).  Some of my favorite tweets on the matter:

The Republican cowards just kill me.

And, literally damn the Christians who think this comports with their Christianity.


You know, I have no idea whether Trump’s personal conflict of interests drove this.  But neither does anybody so long as he won’t release his tax returns or properly extricate from his businesses.


“Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on the group’s website.

Phew.  That’s enough for now.

Photo of the day

From a recent Atlantic photos of the week gallery:

A stag eats corn on a snow-covered field in the village of Dumnice near the town of Vushtrri on January 16, 2017, as subzero temperatures gripping Kosovo were predicted to fall even further later in the week.

Armend Nimani / AFP / Getty

Christian wrong

So, originally, I was just going to include this Bill Ayers excerpt in quick hits, but then I realized I came across two other good posts on the topic this week.  Anyway, Ayers has a really really good take on Trumps profoundly mis-guided and profoundly immoral zero-sum universe.  But he concludes, by bringing it around to the failure of American conservative Christianity, in this regard:

The direction of the Christian gospel is pretty clear on this point. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy.” “Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other also.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The list goes on and on, of course. Even “us first” nationalism is difficult to sustain in the face of Scripture. At the beginnings of the Abrahamic story God promises that “in you all nations of the earth will be blessed”, and Peter understood that “God shows no partiality”.

I keep being confronted with the same question: for those of us who claim to be Christians, do we take this stuff seriously or don’t we? Forget the Supreme Court, or LGBT rights, or abortion, or any of the other issues that Christians sometimes hold up as being “the” issue that justifies their choices. All of this is under Screwtape’s “Christianity and…” – things we attach to God that become God. They are idols.

To view the world as Us vs. Them, to reduce every human interaction and every issue to a struggle to produce winners and losers, is an utter and complete repudiation of the Gospel of Christ. To follow a man who walks that path is to reject the injunction of Jesus’ own prayer to God: Thy will be done. God’s will is not for a world of conflict and strife. Why would we follow someone who wants to make it more so?


Meanwhile, I also enjoyed the take from avowed atheist, Kevin Drum:

But it actually goes further than this. One of the things Donald Trump taught us last year is the ultimate hollowness of the Christian right. Trump is the most obviously unreligious person to run for president in—well, probably forever. He doesn’t go to church. He hasn’t read the Bible. His lifestyle would make Hugh Hefner blush. He doesn’t pray. He doesn’t ask forgiveness from God for his sins. He’s not born again. There is literally nothing in his 70 years on this earth that suggests he’s anything but a stone atheist…

The Christian right has never been about actual faith. Like any other interest group, they just want what they want: abortion restrictions, money for private schools, opposition to gays, and so forth. As long as you’re on board, they don’t care what’s in your heart. They never have, and that’s why the suggestion that Democrats need to be more publicly devout has always been so misguided. Faith doesn’t matter. Empathy for people of faith doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is supporting the Christian right’s retrograde social views, and Democrats were never going to do that.

And, finally, a Divinity graduate friend, shared this progressive Christian take:

For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “ keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.

This represents a predominant theme of Westernized Christendom: proclaiming Christian rhetoric while actively — or passively — practicing the opposite in reality.

Because while the gospels instruct followers of Christ to help the poor, oppressed, maligned, mistreated, sick, and those most in need of help, Christians in America have largely supported measures that have rejected refugees, refused aid to immigrants, cut social services to the poor, diminished help for the sick, fueled xenophobia, reinforced misogyny, ignored racism, stoked hatred, reinforced corruption, and largely increased inequality, prejudice, and fear.

If Christians refuse to help and actually use their political advocacy and opinions to further hurt refugees, immigrants, women, foreigners, minorities, the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the sick, the LGBTQ community — and aren’t abiding by the golden rule of loving their neighbors as themselves, then who exactly are Christians supposedly loving?

What benefit are Christians providing their communities, and what good are they contributing to the world around them? Because in America, it appears that the sole purpose of Christianity is to selfishly protect people’s own self-interests instead of sacrificially serving others.

The election of President Donald Trump has proven that numerous Christians are more worried about power, influence, and control than the gospel messages of humility, generosity, ministering to others, and love.

Of course there are exceptions, but it should be sobering for Christians to realize that that many who claim to follow the Prince of Peace, the Healer, the Light of the World, supported policies that are bringing darkness and pain to so many people.

Amen, again.  And, just so I don’t have to do a separate post, here’s today’s NYT story about the refugees (who put their lives at dramatic risk for the American military) who are currently being detained and denied entry to the U.S.  I’m sure that’s just what Jesus would have wanted.


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