Republicans versus democracy

I thought about making a post on that topic earlier this week.  Good thing I waited, as political scientists and democracy experts, Steven Levitsky and 

While technically constitutional, the act — in effect, stealing a Court seat — hadn’t been tried since the 19th century. It would be bad enough on its own, but the Merrick Garland affair is part of a broader pattern.

Republicans across the country seem to have embraced an “any means necessary” strategy to preserve their power. After losing the governorship in North Carolina in 2016 and Wisconsin in 2018, Republicans used lame duck legislative sessions to push through a flurry of bills stripping power from incoming Democratic governors. Last year, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a Republican gerrymandering initiative, conservative legislators attempted to impeach the justices. And back in North Carolina, Republican legislators used a surprise vote last week to ram through an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget — while most Democrats were told no vote would be held and so attended a 9/11 commemoration. This is classic “constitutional hardball,” behavior that, while technically legal, uses the letter of the law to subvert its spirit.

Constitutional hardball has accelerated under the Trump administration…

Constitutional hardball can damage and even destroy a democracy. Democratic institutions only function when power is exercised with restraint. When parties abandon the spirit of the law and seek to win “by any means necessary,” politics often descends into institutional warfare. Governments in Hungary and Turkey have used court packing and other “legal” maneuvers to lock in power and ensure that subsequent abuse is ruled “constitutional.” And when one party engages in constitutional hardball, its rivals often feel compelled to respond in a tit-for-tat fashion, triggering an escalating conflict that is difficult to undo. As the collapse of democracy in Germany and Spain in the 1930s and Chile in the 1970s makes clear, these escalating conflicts can end in tragedy…

Why is the Republican Party playing dirty? Republican leaders are not driven by an intrinsic or ideological contempt for democracy. They are driven by fear.

Democracy requires that parties know how to lose. Politicians who fail to win elections must be willing to accept defeat, go home, and get ready to play again the next day. This norm of gracious losing is essential to a healthy democracy.

But for parties to accept losing, two conditions must hold. First, they must feel secure that losing today will not bring ruinous consequences; and second, they must believe they have a reasonable chance of winning again in the future. When party leaders fear they cannot win future elections, or that defeat poses an existential threat to themselves or their constituents, the stakes rise. Their time horizons shorten. They throw tomorrow to the wind and seek to win at any cost today. In short, desperation leads politicians to play dirty…

[lots of useful history]

Republicans appear to be in the grip of a similar panic today. Their medium-term electoral prospects are dim. For one, they remain an overwhelmingly white Christian party in an increasingly diverse society. As a share of the American electorate, white Christians declined from 73 percent in 1992 to 57 percent in 2012 and may be below 50 percent by 2024. Republicans also face a generational challenge: Younger voters are deserting them. In 2018, 18- to 29-year olds voted for Democrats by a more than 2 to 1 margin, and 30-somethings voted nearly 60 percent for Democrats...

So like the old Southern Democrats, modern-day Republicans have responded to darkening electoral horizons and rank-and-file perceptions of existential threat with a win-at-any-cost mentality. Most reminiscent of the Jim Crow South are Republican efforts to tilt the electoral playing field…

The only way out of this situation is for the Republican Party to become more diverse. A stunning 90 percent of House Republicans are white men, even though white men are a third of the electorate. Only when Republicans can compete seriously for younger, urban and nonwhite voters will their fear of losing — and of a multiracial America — subside.

Such a transformation is less far-fetched than it may appear right now; indeed, the Republican National Committee recommended it in 2013. But parties only change when their strategies bring costly defeat. So Republicans must fail — badly — at the polls…

Liberal democracy has historically required at least two competing parties committed to playing the democratic game, including one that typically represents conservative interests. But the commitment of America’s conservative party to this system is wavering, threatening our political system as a whole. Until Republicans learn to compete fairly in a diverse society, our democratic institutions will be imperiled.

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie makes the case for Democratic court-packing in response to the Republicans:

President Trump bragged on Twitter recently about his success filling up the federal judiciary. “I want to congratulate” Senate majority leader “Mitch McConnell and all Republicans,” Trump wrote: “Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench. Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!”

This is just a slight exaggeration. After 32 months in office, Trump has made 209 nominations to the federal judiciary, with 152 judges confirmed by the Senate, including two Supreme Court justices. That’s nearly half the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

His picks fit a mold. They’re overwhelmingly white (87 percent, compared with 64 percent of Obama’s), overwhelmingly male (78 percent, compared with 58 percent of Obama’s), staunchly conservative and fairly young — the average age of judges confirmed under Trump is 50. His youngest confirmed nominee, Allison Rushing of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, is 36…

So what should Democrats do? They should play hardball back. Congress, according to the Judiciary Act of 1789, decides the number of judges. It’s been 150 years since it changed the size of the Supreme Court. I think it’s time to revisit the issue. Should Democrats win that trifecta, they should expand and yes, pack, the Supreme Court. Add two additional seats to account for the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh nominations. Likewise, expand and pack the entire federal judiciary to neutralize Trump and McConnell’s attempt to cement Republican ideological preferences into the constitutional order.

The reasoning underpinning this proposal isn’t just about the future; it’s about the past. We have had two rounds of minority government in under two decades — two occasions where executive power went to the popular-vote loser. Rather than moderate their aims and ambitions, both presidents have empowered ideologues and aggressively spread their influence. We are due for a course correction.

2) My daughter loves Raina Telgemaier books.  I did not realize what a phenomenon she is.

3) Really enjoyed Edward Snowden’s interview on Fresh Air.  I thought this part was particularly noteworthy:

On deciding to share classified material with journalists and setting conditions for the publication of the material

I tried to reconstruct the system of checks and balances by using myself to provide documents to the journalists, but never to publish them myself. People don’t realize this, but I never made public a single document. I trusted that role to the journalists to decide whatthe public did and did not need to know. Before the journalists published these stories, they had to go to the government, and this was a condition that I required them to do, and tell the government, warn them they’re about to run this story about this program and the government could argue against publication and say, “You’ve got it wrong,” or “You’ve got it right.” But if you publish this is going to hurt somebody. In every case I’m aware of, that process was followed, and that’s why in 2019 we’ve never seen any evidence at all presented by the government that someone’s been harmed as a result of these stories.

4) George Conway and Neal Katyal, “Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.”

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

5) Dahlia Lithwick argues that Lewandoski hearings this week– conducted by an able attorney instead of grandstanding politicians– show the potential of impeachment hearings.

6) Love this fro Paul Waldman, “Trump finally realizes being president is hard”

You might think this idea — that we could quickly end the war in Afghanistan by killing everyone in the country — would never even occur to a sane person. But Trump keeps bringing it up. Back in July, he said, “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.” The point is always how easy it could be, compared with what he has to do now.

I think what underlies these repeated statements is a genuine frustration on his part with how complicated being president has turned out to be. This was something Trump was plainly unprepared for. A few months in, he told Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Yes, Trump actually believed that being president of the United States, the most important job on the planet, would be easier than running a midsize brand-licensing firm.

This was probably because he figured that being president was mostly giving speeches and throwing out a few ceremonial first pitches (though he is the first president since William Howard Taft not to do the latter, most likely because he’s afraid of being booed). How hard could it be? He saw presidents on TV and thought they were all idiots; obviously he could run circles around them.

Then he got to the White House and learned that everything was more complicated than he thought, especially legislating. You’ll remember him lamenting, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” when in fact everyone except for him was quite aware. Which is why the only major piece of legislation he passed was a tax cut, and it isn’t exactly hard to get a Republican Congress to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

7) This is a helluva story:

Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities.

8) This NYT Magazine feature, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty” was soooo good.  And, honestly, pretty much anything I’ve ever read by William Langewiesche is so good.

The paradox is that the failures of the 737 Max were really the product of an incredible success: a decades-long transformation of the whole business of flying, in which airplanes became so automated and accidents so rare that a cheap air-travel boom was able to take root around the world. Along the way, though, this system never managed to fully account for the unexpected: for the moment when technology fails and humans — a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills — are required to intervene. In the drama of the 737 Max, it was the decisions made by four of those pilots, more than the failure of a single obscure component, that led to 346 deaths and the worldwide grounding of the entire fleet.

If you were to choose a location in the developing world in which to witness the challenges facing airline safety — the ossification of regulations and in many places their creeping irrelevance to operations; the corruption of government inspectors; the corruption of political leaders and the press; the pressure on mechanics, dispatchers and flight crews to keep unsafe airplanes in the air; the discouragement, fatigue and low wages of many airline employees; the willingness of bankers and insurers to underwrite bare-bones operations at whatever risk to the public; the cynicism of investors who insist on treating air travel as just another business opportunity; and finally the eagerness of the manufacturers to sell their airplanes to any airline without restraint — you would be hard pressed to find a more significant place than Indonesia.

9) I thought I had a pretty good handle on 19th century U.S. History.  But not this and this is still so important.  Historian Heather Cox Richardson, “When Adding New States Helped the Republicans
Putting new stars on the U.S. flag has always been political. But D.C. statehood is a modest partisan ploy compared with the mass admission of underpopulated western territories—which boosts the GOP even 130 years later.”

In the face of an emerging Democratic majority, Republicans set out to cement their power. [emphases mine] The parties had scuffled for years over admission of new states, with Democrats now demanding New Mexico and Montana, and Republicans hoping for Washington and Dakota (which had not yet been divided in two). Before the election, Congress had discussed bringing in all four states together, but as soon as the Republican victory was clear, Democrats realized they had to get the best deal they could or Republicans would simply admit the Republican states and ignore the Democratic ones, as they had done in 1876. So on February 22, 1889, outgoing President Cleveland signed an act dividing the Dakota Territory in half, and permitting the two new territories, along with Montana and Washington, to write constitutions before admission to the union the following year. They passed over New Mexico, which had twice the population of any of the proposed states.

Republicans did not hide their intentions. In the popular Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, President Harrison’s son crowed that the Republicans would win all the new states and gain eight more senators, while the states’ new electors meant that Cleveland’s New York would no longer dominate the Electoral College. When the Republicans’ popularity continued to fall nationally, in 1890 Congress added Wyoming and Idaho—whose populations in 1880 were fewer than 21,000 and 33,000 respectively—organizing them so quickly that they bypassed normal procedures and permitted volunteers instead of elected delegates to write Idaho’s constitution.

Democrats objected that Wyoming and Idaho would have four senators and two representatives even though there were fewer people in both together than in some of Massachusetts’s congressional districts, but Harrison’s men insisted that they were statesmen rather than partisans. They accused Democrats of refusing to admit any states that did not support their party—a reversal of the actual record—and claimed Republicans supported “the prosperous and growing communities of the great West.” But moderate Republicans sided with the Democrats, pointing out that the Harrison administration had badly undercut the political power of voters from populous regions, attacking America’s fundamental principle of equal representation.

Harrison’s men didn’t care. “The difference between the parties is as the difference between the light and darkness, day and night,” one supporter argued in Frank Leslie’s. The Republican Party, he insisted, must stay in power to protect Big Business. If that meant shutting more populous territories out of statehood and admitting a few underpopulated western states to enable a minority to exercise political control over the majority of Americans, so be it. Today, the District of Columbia has more residents than at least two other states; Puerto Rico has more than 20. With numbers like that, admitting either or both to the union is less a political power play on the Democrats’ part than the late-19th-century partisan move that still warps American politics.

10) You know I am a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.  But, especially because I like her and have great respect for her intellect and policy chops, stuff like being fundamentally dishonest about Michael Brown really bugs me.  It shouldn’t be impossible to say that Ferguson police were horrible and completely abused their police and that Michael Brown was not murdered.  Yet.  Fred Kaplan:

Several of the current Democratic candidates have accused the officer who shot Brown of murder. Brown’s death was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a murder. When Democrats claim it was, and when they refuse to correct that mistake, they cast doubt on their commitment to truth. And they undermine the cause of criminal justice reform. [emphasis mine]

Brown became an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement for understandable reasons. He was unarmed, and the man who shot him, former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, is white. Racial bias in law enforcement was and is a pervasive problem. Ferguson’s police force has a history of discrimination. That history, the well-earned distrust it fostered in the black community, and the indignity of Brown’s body lying in the street for hours after the shooting ignited outrage. Ferguson became a flashpoint for protests and riots, and police responded with military gear and excessive force. The whole episode was a disaster. It awakened many white Americans to the mistreatment that black Americans had long felt at the hands of police.

But at the core of the story, there was a problem: The original account of Brown’s death, that he had been shot in the back or while raising his hands in surrender, was false. The shooting was thoroughly investigated, first by a grand jury and then by the Obama Justice Department. The investigations found that Brown assaulted Wilson, tried to grab his gun, and was shot dead while advancing toward Wilson again.

Despite these findings, three Democratic presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and billionaire Tom Steyer—said last month that Brown was murdered. These candidates haven’t backed down in the face of press queries and fact checks. Warren even dismissed a face-to-face question about the DOJ report that cleared Wilson…

Warren’s answer compounded her initial falsehood by adding a second myth. As awful as it was that Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours—an affront that even Ferguson’s police chief acknowledged and regretted—it isn’t true that Brown was left to die. (According to the DOJ report on Brown’s death, Wilson’s final shot killed him “where he stood.”) But what’s most concerning is Warren’s failure to admit error, particularly when the error is an accusation of murder. Does she respect facts that don’t fit her narrative? If she becomes the Democratic nominee, will voters see her as a truth teller in the face of Donald Trump’s lies, or as an ideologue? If she becomes president, will she listen to information that complicates her plans? Or will she plow ahead?

Candidates should talk about police bias. They should honor the memory of those whose lives have been taken. There’s no need to rely on a false narrative to tell the truth that black lives matter

11) Drum on the inanity of a “confess your climate sins” website:

Congratulations, NBC. This is probably the most efficient possible way to ensure that nothing gets done about climate change. In one stroke it:

  • Perpetuates the myth that voluntary individual action makes much of a difference.
  • Makes people feel guilty about ordinary, everyday activities.
  • And then turns the whole thing into a game where we absolve ourselves with a public confession.

Climate change isn’t a game, and trying to make people feel bad about living their lives isn’t going to increase support for the kinds of things that really make a difference. It just gives people a reason to put climate change out of their minds in order to avoid having to feel guilty about it. Knock it off.

12) This essay was really, really good, “Women Poop. Sometimes At Work. Get Over It.”

We may be living in an age where certain pockets of the corporate world are breathlessly adapting to women’s needs — company-subsidized tampons, salary workshops, lactation rooms. But even in the world’s most progressive workplace, it’s not a stretch to think that you might have an empowered female executive leading a meeting at one moment and then sneaking off to another floor to relieve herself, the next.

Poop shame is real — and it disproportionately affects women, who suffer from higher rates of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In other words, the patriarchy has seeped into women’s intestinal tracts. Let’s call it the pootriarchy.

Girls aren’t born with poo shame — it’s something they’re taught.

In “Psychology in the Bathroom,” the psychologist Nicholas Haslam writes that girls tend to be toilet trained earlier than boys, learning at a young age to neatly keep their bodily functions contained (our words, not his).

When those girls get a bit older, they learn to pass gas silently — while boys do it loudly, and think it’s hilarious. (Yes, there is a kind of Kinsey scale to gas-passing and it goes like this: According to a study called “Fecal Matters” that was published in a journal called “Social Problems,” adult heterosexual men are far more likely to engage in scatological humor than heterosexual women and are more likely to report intentionally passing gas. Gay men are less likely to intentionally pass gas than heterosexual women, and lesbian women are somewhere in between.)

“If a boy farts, everyone laughs, including the boy,” said Sarah Albee, the author of “Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up.” “If a girl farts, she is mortified.”…

“The bathroom is saturated with gender in fascinating ways,” said Mr. Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, who noted that women’s aversion, particularly at work, is not entirely unfounded: One unpublished study he mentions in his book found that a woman who excused herself to go to the bathroom was evaluated more negatively than one who excused herself to tend to “paperwork” — while there was no difference in the way participants viewed the men.

“At one level it’s an association of women with purity,” said Mr. Haslam, referring to the double standard. “At another it’s a double standard applied to hygiene and civility, where the weight falls disproportionately on women to be clean, odorless and groomed.”

13) As a long-time Netflix subscriber who shuns Hulu and a Seinfeld lover, I’m actually quite excited about Seinfeld coming on over next year.  But I have to agree with this Wired column that it does not actually seem like a cost-effective strategy to attract subscribers.

14) So, this was really interesting… how a shift towards electric cars helped contribute to the strike against GM:

UAW membership has ticked upward in recent years, recovering from its post-financial-crisis nadir. Now it faces a new threat from the next great shift for the auto industry. The electric car may be great for the planet and glorious for drivers, but it’s no good for jobs…

It has balanced that withdrawal with plans to introduce 20 new, all-electric models by 2023, its first big step in an $8 billion bid to (someday) stop building gas- and diesel-powered rides altogether.

That change comes with a worrisome footnote for auto workers around the world. Last year, a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that by 2030, a moderate shift to electric propulsion could leave 75,000 Germans out of work—even accounting for the creation of 25,000 new jobs. That’s because batteries and motors are far simpler machines than internal combustion engines, and require a few hundred parts instead of a few thousand. That’s the same reason maintenance costs for EVs are so low—a problem for dealerships that rely on servicing cars for profits. Fewer parts mean fewer people. [emphasis mine]

15) Really enjoyed this video on Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury and the use of idiolect by actors in biographical roles.

16) Really enjoyed this backstory on one of the most iconic song/video’s of the 80’s, “Take on me.”

17) Another great NYT magazine feature, “an the N.F.L. Turn a 360-Pound Rugby Player Into a Football Star? Jordan Mailata had never played football before the Eagles drafted him last year. Now he has to prove himself in one of the sport’s most technically demanding positions”

18) I hate those new point-of-sale touchscreen terminals that ask you for a tip when you use a credit card.  Y’all already know how I feel about tipping as a general rule and the last thing we need is to be pushing it for transactions that don’t even involve employees relying on tips for wages (which, in a better world, would be none).  Among other things, when confronted with these I am more likely to pay in cash.  Good NYT article on how the systems are confounding customers on what to do worldwide.

19) I’ve seen some of those horrible ads that are clearly intended to get you to pay more for health care but dupe you into thinking that the people running the ads are the good guys.  I meant to do some research and write a post.  Good thing I waited because Drum is on the case:

One of the most outrageous aspects of American health care is surprise out-of-network billing. Most people, if they go to a hospital that’s “in-network,” quite reasonably assume that this means “the hospital’s doctors are in-network.” But that’s not the case. Sometimes hospitals contract with doctors who aren’t part of your insurance network, and these doctors can charge whatever they feel like. Your insurer won’t cover this—that’s what out-of-network means—which means that when you get home you’re likely to be greeted by a $40,000 anesthesiology bill.

This is obviously bad, and both Democrats and President Trump favor legislation to end it. However, there’s one group that thinks out-of-network billing is just fine: the private equity firms that own the medical groups that specialize in out-of-network care.

But this presents a problem: how do you make it sound bad to prohibit surprise out-of-network billing? Hmmm.

Here’s the answer: Attack the ban as “rate setting” by “big insurance companies.” Then add some scary stuff about not being able to see your doctor anymore and “profiting from patients’ pain” and you’re all set. Who wants to involved with anything like that?

But the best part of this particular attack ad comes at the very end: “Put Patients Before Profits.” How Trumpian! The whole point of out-of-network billing is to allow doctors to make lots of money at the expense of their patients. But who cares? You just say the opposite and then get huffy if anyone suggests you’re being a wee bit untruthful.

Out-of-network billing is hardly limited to medical groups owned by private equity firms. Still, they’re the only ones with the organized greed that’s required to mount an advertising campaign telling us that up is down and black is white. I wonder if it will work?

Just evil.

20) Perhaps you heard about the “Obama Netflix?” tweet.   I watched “American Factory” this week.  So good.  Trust me and watch it.

 

It’s all about the Republicans

President Trump is literally undermining our democracy every single day.  Even if there are not Republican votes to remove him, I think an impeachment is warranted as it seems he really does believe that he is completely above the law.  And as long as Republicans back him up no matter what, he basically is above the law.  Safe to say, that’s no way to run a democracy.  Great Bernstein daily column on  the dynamics of this today:

I was going to write today about how House Democrats are handling the impeachment question. But the truth is, it’s largely irrelevant. As long as Republicans are united in opposition, President Donald Trump will stay in office. That’s not to say that there aren’t bad and worse choices for Democrats, but they’re not the ones who have the real decision to make. 

Because the truth at this point is pretty obvious: If they could be assured of even a smattering of Republican votes, Democrats would almost certainly impeach the president. If they had enough votes to ensure his removal in the Senate, you could remove that “almost” – Trump would be gone very rapidly. It’s all up to the Republicans. [emphases mine]

We still have only limited information about the emerging whistleblower scandal. But we do know (from what Rudy Giuliani has bragged about) that the president’s lawyer has pressed another country to investigate a Democratic candidate for alleged corruption. That’s on top of the original Trump campaign’s dozens of contacts with a nation attacking U.S. democracy; several documented instances of the president obstructing the investigation of that attack; violations of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution and regular use of government resources to enrich the president’s businesses; and assertions of invented presidential privileges to prevent congressional oversight.

Republicans have been okay with all this, presumably because they’re getting what they want on policy. Or perhaps out of pure partisanship. Or maybe because they’re so deep in the conservative information-feedback loop that they’ve convinced themselves none of it is real. But they should be taking stock now of just how much lawlessness they’re willing to tolerate. At this point, it looks like the whistleblower’s story involves Trump attempting to offer U.S. policy favors to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.

I’ve said all along that there’s a middle ground where the evidence may justify impeachment and removal of the president, but not demand it. Well, the evidence has long since established that impeachment is justified. Now we’re tiptoeing up to the line where it demands removal. At some point, we may wind up clearly over that line by any reasonable definition. If Republicans choose to stick with Trump then, he’ll correctly conclude that he’s above the law. 

Democrats can’t do much about this by themselves. Sure, they can attempt to convince the public that Trump’s actions demonstrate that he’s unfit for office, and it’s reasonable to consider every method of doing so, including a partisan impeachment ending in a party-line acquittal in the Senate. They should also continue their investigations, even though much of the case against Trump has been public from the beginning.

But we know how public opinion works. As long as Republicans choose to stay relatively united, either in denying evidence of Trump’s malfeasance or claiming that there’s nothing wrong with it, then Democrats will be unable to generate enough constituent pressure to change their minds. Whatever evidence is turned up, Republicans probably can brazen it out if that’s what they really want, regardless of the damage it does to U.S. democracy. So that leaves one question for them: Is this really what you want? 

The truth is most politicians put party above country on a fairly regular basis.  What we’re seeing now, though, is a Republican party consistently and dramatically placing party and self-serving political calculation over country to a degree we assuredly have not seen in my lifetime.  And that sucks for everybody.

And then God said, “let there be AR-15s”

Speaking of God, Alexandra Petri is so good at this.  In response to Sarah Sanders’ embarrassing and ludicrous claim:

“Democrats say we have guns in America because of ‘corruption.’ No, we have guns because it’s our God-given right enshrined in the Constitution.” — Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders

Petri gives us this:

Yes, this is true, and it is good that we talk about it. This is a fact about the American founding that has been suppressed for too long. Certainly all the firearms that sprout Hydra-like across the country were acquired by no mortal means, and it is important for us to describe exactly how they came about, so that we may better understand and appreciate them.

The year is not important. But it was a long time ago, at least 230 years.

The country possessed many wonders. There were waterfalls, rocks, rills, woods, templed hills. There were raccoons, small nervous bears that were forever washing their hands like tiny Lady Macbeths. There were armadillos. There was even syphilis and Christianity, both thoughtful gifts from Europe. But when one surveyed the country from above, something seemed to be missing. What was it?

Suddenly, thunder rumbled. In the hall in Philadelphia where they were gathered to write a Constitution, and also in Virginia where George Mason was crafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights (confusingly, these events were in different years, but theologians assure me this is possible), the delegates shuddered, and Benjamin Franklin had to rub James Madison’s back soothingly and murmur to him so his hands stopped shaking enough to be able to start taking notes again.

“BEHOLD,” said a thundering voice from a cloud. (Madison had resumed taking his notes at this point, which is how we know this.) The heavens parted. An enormous hand stretched forth, holding a mysterious black object, long and pointed like a stick.

“I’M GIVING YOU THIS,” the hand said. “A GIFT, FROM ME TO YOU, THAT NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE AWAY.”

“What is it?” the delegates asked.

“JUST TAKE IT,” the hand said. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.”

“What’s it for?” the delegates asked.

“KILLING,” the hand said. “INDISCRIMINATELY. CHILDREN, TEENAGERS, GRANDMOTHERS, PARENTS ON THEIR WAY TO PICK UP THEIR KIDS FROM SCHOOL. TODDLERS. I GUESS YOU COULD USE IT FOR HUNTING, BUT NOT IF YOU WERE PARTICULARLY GOOD AT HUNTING.”

“Like a musket?” someone asked.

The voice laughed long and loud and rumblingly. “ONLY IN THE LOOSEST SENSE,” the voice said. “FOR BEHOLD, THIS CAN FIRE 600 ROUNDS PER MINUTE.”

“This seems like it could be useful in a war,” Mason said, not unreasonably.

“I DON’T MEAN IN WAR,” the voice said. “THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING. I MEAN, IN PRIVATE HOMES AND ON CITY STREETS AND UNLOCKED IN CABINETS IN HOUSES WITH TODDLERS IN THEM, AND IN THE HANDS OF POLICE OFFICERS.”…

“I have a slight question,” Benjamin Franklin said.

“STOP ASKING QUESTIONS,” the voice said. “AND IF ANYONE EVER SAYS, ‘THERE ARE TOO MANY, THESE ARE TOO DANGEROUS, WE DON’T WANT THEM ANY MORE, THE MILITIA THING HAS REALLY WANED SO IT SEEMS LIKE MOSTLY THEY ARE USED TO CAUSE ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME, TO INCREASE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT PEOPLE WHO WANT TO END THEIR LIVES WILL BE ABLE TO DO SO, AND TO DECREASE THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN AND CIVILIANS,’ YOU MUST SAY NO, BECAUSE I TOLD YOU SO AND I AM PLEASED TO BEHOLD THIS GREAT WORK.”

Are Christian conservatives driving liberals away from religion?

Maybe.  And who can blame them when you look at the absolute gross distortions of Christianity that are so common among right-wing Evangelicals, e.g., harsh treatment of migrants and refugees is just fine and Donald Trump a champion of “Christian” values.

I was recently telling my Intro to American Government class about the grown of secular voters and how they are quite associated with the Democratic  party.  What I did not realize, though, is that there’s some very intriguing social science actually suggesting a causal path of aversion to right-wing Christianity leading liberals to identify as non religions.  538’s Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Daniel Cox sum up the research:

Over the course of a single generation, the country has gotten a lot less religious. As recently as the early 1990s, less than 10 percent of Americans lacked a formal religious affiliation, and liberals weren’t all that much likelier to be nonreligious than the public overall. Today, however, nearly one in four Americans are religiously unaffiliated. That includes almost 40 percent of liberals — up from 12 percent in 1990, according to the 2018 General Social Survey.1 The share of conservatives and moderates who have no religion, meanwhile, has risen less dramatically.

The result is that today, most people’s political ideology is more tightly tethered to their religious identity…

Margolis and several other prominent political scientists have concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity. People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted.

Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people. One study, for instance, found that something as simple as reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church could actually prompt some Democrats to say they were nonreligious. “It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and one of the study’s co-authors. [emphasis mine]

So, there you have it.  As long as Christian conservative use religion as a cudgel to promote their biases and excuse horrible behavior towards society’s most vulnerable, liberals who might be on somewhat of a religious fence will continue to turn away.

My quasi-prediction on Joe Biden

So, I’m going to temper this with “quasi” prediction, because I think it is a likely outcome, but far from a certainty.

NYT just had a piece on how the old age of candidates isn’t hurting them as Biden, Warren, Sanders, all 70+, are leading in the polls.  But here’s the thing, I feel pretty strongly it is hurting Biden.  Sure he’s never been a particularly strong candidate in the past, but he is so clearly not as good as he was 10 or 20 years ago.  I don’t blame him– it’s a rare 76 year old who would be– but that’ his reality.  The point of the NYT piece is largely that direct attacks on candidates’ age aren’t working.  Maybe not.  But being older and clearly off the top of his game is quite likely hurting Biden.  Interestingly, the older Sanders really does seem kind of ageless, but I’m very much with Jon Bernstein that he’s just not a serious threat to capture the nomination.

Meanwhile, also in the Times, an article on how Biden has not “locked down” the support of Black voters.  Of course he hasn’t.  Nobody has really locked down any support except the true Bernie-Believers from 2016 who are probably going to stick with him no matter what.

My theory, Biden will inevitably collapse as a candidate because he’s just not a very good one (in part, though far from wholly, due to his age) and the Black vote– huge in Democratic primaries– becomes very much up for grabs.  This is one reason why I’m not prepared to write-off Cory Booker yet (also, because I still like the guy).  And definitely why those writing off Harris are premature, (see Leonhardt’s, “How Kamala Harris Can Make a Comeback”).

Would I be surprised of Biden gets the nomination?  Maybe a little, but it is clearly entirely within the realm of possibility, but, my take is that it is more than likely not going to be the case.

And, just because I’m picking somewhat on Biden here, an excellent piece from Ezra Klein reminding us why (and it’s not because Biden is racist– he’s not) Biden is a problematic candidate.  Or, at least from my perspective, would make a very poor choice to actually be president compared to other Democrats:

Biden’s 2020 campaign thoroughly lionizes Obama, but during his vice presidency, the quiet critique of Obama that thrummed through Biden’s world — and was echoed across Washington — is that Obama didn’t spend enough time schmoozing congressional Republicans, or even congressional Democrats. Perhaps if he spent more time building trust and friendship with congressional leaders, he’d be able to get more done.

In his 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner routine, Obama delivered a funny-because-he-wasn’t-joking riff on these criticisms. “Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” he said. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell!?” …

For that reason, Biden needs to make the argument for his style of politics clearly and explicitly. And, at times, he has. “Some of these people are saying. ‘Biden just doesn’t get it,’” Biden said in his announcement speech. “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. To help make government work in the past. I can do that again with your help.”

The problem Biden faces in rooting himself so thoroughly in the Obama administration is that government often didn’t work in that era. After retaking the House in 2010, Republicans blocked Obama’s agenda and Washington ground into gridlock and recrimination. When Hillary Clinton ran in 2016 as the continuation of the Obama era, she lost to Donald Trump. It’s possible that four years of Trump have caused voters to rethink that preference, but it’s a thin argument.

Biden needs to make the case that he can move beyond the frustrations of Obama’s second term, that his approach will build on what came before rather than simply return to it. This is an argument that my reporting suggests Biden believes, but he spends so much of his energy in the debates extolling Obama’s approach to politics that he’s left himself little space to define his own.

Democracy, NC Republican style

I have, of course, been remiss in not mentioning the completely appalling behavior of NC Republicans earlier this week.  The N&O Op-Ed captures it well:

The verdict is now plain. North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders — not actually leaders, but connivers — are beyond shame.

In a stunning display of contempt for democracy, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, called a surprise vote to overturn Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget just after a session opened at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Democratic lawmakers and the media had been told by Republican leaders that there would be no vote in the morning.

Most Democrats were absent. Enough Republicans, aware of the secret plan, were there. When Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, made the motion to reconsider the state budget, the handful of Democrats on hand objected strenuously.

“This is a travesty of the process and you know it,” said Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover.

That it was, but with these Republicans a travesty of the process is just business as usual. With only 64 of the House’s 120 members present, the vote to override passed 55-9…

But this isn’t a case simply of hardball politics and sly legislative maneuvering. This is a case of breaking faith with the people of North Carolina and with all who strove and sacrificed over generations to protect and advance North Carolina’s political system as one based on a true representation of the people’s will, a true democracy.

And the legislation at issue isn’t a bill of limited scope. It is the state budget. It is how North Carolina defines itself by the priorities it sets in spending. And it’s being held up by a dispute over a major issue that involves billions of federal dollars and ultimately affects everyone in the state, Medicaid expansion…

Not only was the House vote dishonest, it was carried out by a Republican majority that courts have repeatedly found to have gained seats through illegal gerrymandering. It was an illegitimate majority acting in an unethical way. These Republicans may be incapable of shame, but North Carolinians should be outraged. First by gerrymandering and now by a high-handed vote, something new has been taken from them. It’s called democracy. [emphasis mine]

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