Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).
Let’s elevate this discussion to the level of a separate post.
I regularly refer to “real Republicans,” a group to which Donald J. Trump — ideologically and otherwise — does not belong. This is an important distinction. To say he’s just another Republican — as plenty of Democrats and Republicans both would have it — is to normalize him.
A lot of Democrats insist that the thing that’s wrong with Trump is that he’s a Republican, end of story. This works for them because they demonize all Republicans, and it doesn’t matter how bad Trump is, he’s just another. Which means, they completely and utterly miss the unique threat that he poses to our system of government. They also miss the fact that unless Republican eventually rise up against him — something they’re unlikely to do soon, and even less likely if Democrats are calling him one of them, triggering the usual partisan defensive response — we’ll never be rid of him.
A lot of Republicans, including all the ones who know (or once knew) better, have dutifully lined up behind him, starting when he seized their presidential nomination. They’re now in they’re usual “R is always good” mode, any misgivings they may have had a year ago forgotten.
As usual, the two parties work together to support and reinforce each others’ partisan stances. The more Democrats push the line that Trump’s just another Republican, the more Republicans will embrace him and defend him. The more Republicans close ranks around him, the more certain Democrats are in seeing him as just another Republican.
And the more the rest of us see them falling into that pattern, the more disgusted we are with the mindlessness of parties. (Some of us, anyway. Many independents — the inattentive sorts whom both parties despise — are highly suggestible, and may lazily fall in with the usual binary formula that there are only two kinds of people in politics.)
In recent hours (and for some time before that), both Bud and Bill have been pushing the idea that my notions of what constitutes a “real Republican” are outdated and therefore wrong. Today, they say, Trump is a real Republican, and so is Tea Partier Mick Mulvaney.
Fellas, you seem to think I’m blind, but I’m not. I’ve watched as successive waves of barbarians (in the definition of the day) have washed over the GOP. I missed Goldwater because I was out of the country at the time, but no matter; he was a temporary phenomenon. Four years later Nixon had recaptured the party for the mainstream. But I remember when the Reaganites came in and took over for almost a generation, and the Bushes and the Doles got on board. Then, starting early in this century, things got crazy. There were so many bands of barbarians at the gate that it was hard to keep them straight. There was Mark Sanford and his Club for Growth hyperlibertarians, then the Tea Party with its snake flags, and Sarah Palin with whatever that was (probably just a subset of the Tea Party), and then Trump’s angry nativists.
And yes, the people I call “real Republicans” have been embattled, often seeming to fight a rear-guard action. And yes again, with all these elements pushing and pulling at the party, it has changed to where a Prescott Bush or a Robert A. Taft would not recognize it.
But let me pose a question to you: Was Odoacer a real Roman? After all, he inherited control of Italy after he seized it from the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, in 476.
No, he was not. Not only was he a barbarian (apparently — note the mustache on his coin), but the Western Roman Empire is seen as having ended the moment he took over. He ruled as King of Italy, rather than emperor of anything.
Similarly, if Trump and his core followers are the Republican Party now, then it’s time to call it something else, rather than confusing it with the party of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, Mitch McConnell, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert A. Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
And perhaps that’s where we are. But let’s be clear: With Donald Trump — as much a barbarian as any political figure this nation has produced — in the White House, the nation faces a crisis that should not for a moment be diminished by portraying it as just more of the same games between Republicans and Democrats.
Last week, I read another excellent piece by Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. It was headlined “Do We Still Want the West?,” with the subhed, “The best antidote to the politics of Trump or Le Pen is a course in Western Civ.”
Because of that paper’s pay wall, I’m going to push the envelope a mite on Fair Use here so that you get the point fully, and I hope the Journal will forgive me.
The piece begins anecdotally, telling about how the left’s culture warriors chanted Western Civ right out of the curriculum at Stanford in the ’80s, and how a vote to bring it back (a student vote, because grownups no longer dare to make such decisions) failed, 6 to 1.
Then, he sets out the problem:
The thought comes to mind following Sergei Lavrov’s Orwellian speech last week at the Munich Security Conference, in which the Russian foreign minister called for a “post-West world order.”…
Mr. Lavrov understands something that ought to be increasingly clear to American and European audiences: The West—as a geopolitical bloc, a cultural expression, a moral ideal—is in deep trouble. However weak Russia may be economically, and however cynical its people might be about their regime, Russians continue to drink from a deep well of civilizational self-belief. The same can be said about the Chinese, and perhaps even of the Islamic world too, troubled as it is.
The West? Not so much.
The United States has elected as president a man who has repeatedly voiced his disdain for NATO, the World Trade Organization and other institutions of the Western-led world order. He publicly calls the press “an enemy of the American people” and conjures conspiracy theories about voter fraud whose only purpose is to lend credence to his claim that the system is rigged. He is our first post-rational president, whose approach to questions of fact recalls the deconstructionism of the late Jacques Derrida: There are no truths; reality is negotiable….
He goes on about the crisis of faith in Western ways in Europe, and notes how the non-aligned — who once were so eager to join the Western club — are drifting toward other power centers, such as Russia and China.
In other words, moving toward cultures that still believe in themselves, or at least in their own myths.
Then comes the best part:
There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.
And it believed all of this was worth defending — in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields….
Donald Trump was elected by people who for whatever reason just don’t seem to get the fundamental assumptions of the West — they don’t know the history; they don’t embrace the ideals. It’s hard to talk to them about what’s wrong, because they don’t see it. Maybe it’s too late for them, but it’s time we started overtly teaching our children what’s valuable about the West.
But first, of course, we need to decide whether we still believe in it ourselves…
David Frum on Tavis Smiley’s show earlier this week.
The other night, as I turned off the Apple TV and paused just before turning off the tube altogether, I saw that Tavis Smiley was interviewing David Frum — former speechwriter for George W. Bush and current senior editor for The Atlantic.
So I stopped myself from turning it off, because Frum usually has smart, interesting things to say.
He immediately said something rather outlandish. He suggested it was highly possible that Donald Trump’s main goal in being president of the United States is to become the richest man in the world. And that as long as his tax returns are not disclosed, he’s likely to achieve it.
I was about to scoff, but paused. That would be a ridiculous goal to me, or to Barack Obama, or to George W. Bush (despite what Bud and others seem to believe about Republicans.) The sheer petty, two-bit cupidity of it is laughable, particularly since in our history, no one who was thus motivated has ever sought such a position, much less attained it.
But I then reflected that lots of people actually are that motivated by money, as Doug keeps insisting to me that everyone is. And if there’s anyone on the planet who might be that acquisitive, it’s Donald J. Trump.
Well, fine. I don’t care if he does become the richest man in the world. Were it in my power, I would write him a check for the full amount he wants if only he’d walk away and stop doing what he’s doing to our country.
I don’t know, but suspect, that Frum would do the same. Because the problem for him, and for me, is the startlingly insidious ways that Trump is undermining our republic, its institutions — particularly the effectiveness of our vaunted checks and balances — and its standing in the world as a beacon of how self-government can work. Whatever Trump’s goal is — money, popularity, power for power’s sake — the really horrible thing is what he’s doing to get there.
During the interview with Smiley, Frum alluded to a piece he’d written in The Atlantic. I finally read it tonight. It is without a doubt the most brilliant, incisive, on-point, and chilling thing I’ve read since this nightmare began.
Orwell’s 1984 has been enjoying a surge of popularity in recent weeks, especially it seems since Kellyanne Conway’s remark about “alternative facts.”
Well, the first 878 words of this essay is a bit of speculative fiction imagining the world four years from now, when Trump has just easily won re-election. It’s scarier than 1984 because it’s not a theoretical projection of just how horrible things might get in a place like Stalin’s Russia. It’s chilling because everything it describes, in explaining how Trump becomes a power that can’t be challenged, is completely, immediately believable. It wouldn’t have been before the past year, but it is now. We’re seeing it happen.
The other several thousand words of the piece elaborates on how we get from here to there, and it’s amazing. Frum doesn’t generalize. He explains in detail why it’s highly likely that the checks and balances we rely on — from official ones like Congress to unofficial ones like the press — are being quite effectively neutralized. He sets out beautifully, for instance, how Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are motivated to look the other way because they need Trump more than he needs them. It explains so much.
As for the media, well, Trump is redefining the nature of truth itself, or at least the way Americans regard it. An example of how that works:
One story, still supremely disturbing, exemplifies the falsifying method. During November and December, the slow-moving California vote count gradually pushed Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump in the national popular vote further and further: past 1 million, past 1.5 million, past 2 million, past 2.5 million. Trump’s share of the vote would ultimately clock in below Richard Nixon’s in 1960, Al Gore’s in 2000, John Kerry’s in 2004, Gerald Ford’s in 1976, and Mitt Romney’s in 2012—and barely ahead of Michael Dukakis’s in 1988.
This outcome evidently gnawed at the president-elect. On November 27, Trump tweeted that he had in fact “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He followed up that astonishing, and unsubstantiated, statement with an escalating series of tweets and retweets.
It’s hard to do justice to the breathtaking audacity of such a claim. If true, it would be so serious as to demand a criminal investigation at a minimum, presumably spanning many states. But of course the claim was not true. Trump had not a smidgen of evidence beyond his own bruised feelings and internet flotsam from flagrantly unreliable sources. Yet once the president-elect lent his prestige to the crazy claim, it became fact for many people. A survey by YouGov found that by December 1, 43 percent of Republicans accepted the claim that millions of people had voted illegally in 2016.
If you sow enough cynicism, you don’t have to murder journalists or imprison opponents. There are subtler ways of achieving autocracy, which have been employed in recent years in places like Hungary, and we Americans are just beginning to learn about them.
He sort of leaves open the idea that Trump is a fascist, and moves beyond it, to tell us that our notions and labels and expectations are behind the times:
Whatever else happens, Americans are not going to assemble in parade-ground formations, any more than they will crank a gramophone or dance the turkey trot. In a society where few people walk to work, why mobilize young men in matching shirts to command the streets? If you’re seeking to domineer and bully, you want your storm troopers to go online, where the more important traffic is. Demagogues need no longer stand erect for hours orating into a radio microphone. Tweet lies from a smartphone instead….
But I’m not going to be able to do justice to this piece with excerpts. You need to go read it yourself. If you care, you have to.
I’ll just close with a neat thing Frum did today on Twitter. He set out some of the main points of his essay with a series of 21 Tweets. Here they are:
1) Sessions story today is a sinister confirmation of central thesis of my autocracy article: https://t.co/zx5HE02N19
When will we see some life out of the legislative branch — you know, doing stuff rather than just saying stuff?
I know they’re out of practice. And I know that a lot of the stuff they would do would be stupid — like repealing Obamacare without replacing it with something that actually leads to at least as many people having good coverage. But hey, “stupid” is relatively, and they can’t possibly look as bad on that score as the executive branch — can they?
Kathleen Parker has a good column that points to a way out of the madness for America.
And based on the president-elect’s behavior in the last few days (not to mention the preceding 70 years), we desperately need one:
A movement headed by a mostly Democratic group calling itself Hamilton Electors is trying to persuade Republican electors to defect — not to cede the election to Hillary Clinton but to join with Democrats in selecting a compromise candidate, such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.
Mathematically, only 37 of Trump’s 306 electors are needed to bring his number down to 269, one less than the 270 needed to secure the presidency.
On the Hamilton Electors’ Facebook page, elector Bret Chiafalo, a Democrat from Washington, explains the purpose of the electoral college. If you haven’t previously been a fan of the electoral system, you might become one.
Bottom line: The Founding Fathers didn’t fully trust democracy, fearing mob rule, and so created a republic. They correctly worried that a pure democracy could result in the election of a demagogue (ahem), or a charismatic autocrat (ahem), or someone under foreign influence (ditto), hence the rule that a president must have been born in the United States. We know how seriously Trump takes the latter.
Most important among the founders’ criteria for a president was that he (or now she) be qualified. Thus, the electoral college was created as a braking system that would, if necessary, save the country from an individual such as, frankly, Trump…
Amen to that!
As the courageous Mr. Chiafalo says in the above video, “This is the moment that Hamilton and Madison warned us about. This is the emergency they built the Electoral College for. And if it our constitutional duty, and our moral responsibility, to put the emergency measures into action.”
There is no question whatsoever that he is right. This may not be what electors bargained for when they signed on, but their duty is clear. Each day provides us with startling new evidence of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability for this office. The man is unhinged, and the Electoral College is our one remaining defense against him.
Yep, there are state laws binding electors to slavishly follow the choice made by the thing our founders rightly feared — mob rule, a.k.a. direct democracy. But the electors have a higher duty to the Constitution, and must follow it. I will gladly lead a fund-raising campaign to pay any fines levied against them. (And if something more than fines is involved, we need to have an urgent conversation about that.)
Electors who break with the popular vote are called “faithless.” That’s an Orwellian label if ever I’ve heard one. True faith with the nation, as set out in our Constitution, requires that electors be “faithless” in this national crisis.
Yep, Trump’s supporters will go nuts, because they won’t understand this. They’ll say the system is fixed. Well, it is. At least, it’s supposed to be. Hamilton promised us, in selling the Constitution as “Publius,” that “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
And that’s true, if the College steps up and does its job.
Do your duty, electors. Don’t throw away your shot. If you live 100 years, it’s unlikely you will ever have such an opportunity to serve your country, and such an obligation to do so, as you have right now.
Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on this nomination, but here are some thoughts:
With a complete ignoramus as commander in chief, it’s more important than ever that there be competent Cabinet members, who can keep the ship of state on some kind of rational course, at least when the White House leaves them alone to do so. This is particularly true on the national security team. And Trump’s decision to make Gen. Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn his national security adviser already has us in the hole on that score.
Mattis would seem to fit that bill. He’s a guy whose resume demonstrates that he would fully understand the missions of the Defense Department and act accordingly.
Then there’s the problem that Congress would have to grant an exemption that it has not granted until it did so for George C. Marshall. The law they’d have to waive arises from concerns about maintaining civilian control of the military. As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, fearing a real-life “Seven Days in May.” The Constitution sets the president as commander in chief, and that would seem sufficient. Well, it would under normal circumstances. Having a SecDef who is a recent general and is able to think rings around the president on military matters and foreign affairs could be a cause of concern on the fussy point of civilian control — but I personally would sleep better if I knew Mattis was calling the shots rather than the president-elect.
Mattis is far less trusting of Iran than President Obama. I think that is probably a healthy thing, but as Bryan would say, and this post is after all for Bryan, your mileage may vary.
I think it’s a very good thing that he has differed in the past from Trump on the idea of our allies getting a “free ride” on the back of U.S. power. He argued with a similar comment from President Obama once.
My guys John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board, which makes me like him better. Graham finds him “an outstanding choice,” and McCain says “He is without a doubt of one of finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”
But in fairness, he says this is a new position for him. He notes that after he won the popular vote but lost the election in 2000 (and yes, my Democratic friends, he did lose; it was not “handed to Bush” illegitimately by the Court), he still supported keeping the Electoral College.
Now, he makes these points along the way to explaining his change of mind (not all of these points are relevant; I just found them interesting):
He recognizes that such a move is “not without peril,” and there are good arguments both ways. He says it’s “a balancing act,” but the balance has changed in favor of popular election.
He says “I think it would stimulate public participation in the democratic process like nothing else we could possibly do.”
He uses the cliche, “the wisdom of crowds” — which seems ironic, given what just happened. Even if the election had been by popular vote, the number of people who voted for Trump would have been scary.
Acknowledges that “the Internet age is filled with all this junk,” which is fun to hear given the popular meme that follows him.
He sees popular election as one of “three or four things” — another is getting money out of the process — that could revitalize our democracy.
* No, he’s not really my buddy, but we did know each other when he was a senator and I was an editor at the paper in Jackson, TN. Given the season, here’s a favorite story related to that. Al’s uncle or cousin (I was never clear on the relationship) lived down the street from us in Jackson. He was older, shorter and rounder than Al. One Christmas Eve (having checked with us first), he came to our house in his Santa costume to chat briefly with our kids. They were about 7, 5 and 3 at the time, and it totally blew their minds. He was, needless to say, a more gregarious guy than his famous kinsman. He also used to host an annual game supper/political gathering that I attended once, and it was the only time I ever tasted venison.
Trump voters wanted an outsider, but I doubt that they, or I, or anyone yet fully grasps just how out-of-the-loop this guy is.
I think I have a pretty good idea, based on the last year and a half. I’ve long known enough to see that — if you see the same things — you’d have to be stark, raving mad to want to put this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. But look what’s happened.
So, each day will bring us face-to-face with yet another thing that demonstrate that Donald Trump has never spent a moment of his garish life thinking about things that are second nature to people who — regardless of party or philosophy — possess the most basic qualifications to be president.
Sometimes it’s something small — but telling — such as this:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
Now here’s a place where my own gut feelings are the same as those of our president-elect. The idea of someone showing such hatred and contempt toward the flag that our bravest Americans have given their lives to defend, and to raise over such places as, say, Iwo Jima — a flag that symbolizes the noble ideas upon which our nation was founded — is profoundly offensive, even obscene. I have utter contempt for anyone who would even consider such a thing.
But I wouldn’t use the power of the state to punish someone for it, certainly not to the extent of loss of citizenship, or a year of imprisonment. You might have me going for a moment on something such as writing the protester a ticket, but ultimately I’d even have to reject that. Why? Because of those very ideas that the flag stands for. If burning the flag causes a person to be burned or causes some other harm, then you have a crime. But if the expression itself is punishable, then it doesn’t matter whether the flag is burned because it doesn’t stand for anything.
(This is related to my opposition to “hate crimes,” one of the few areas where I agree with libertarians. Punish the crime — the assault, the murder, the arson, whatever the criminal did — not the political ideas behind it, however offensive.)
People who have their being in the realm of political expression have usually thought this through. And true, even people who have thought about it may disagree with my conclusion, wrong as they may be. Still others cynically manipulate the feelings of millions of well-meaning voters who haven’t thought the issue through themselves.
But I don’t think that’s the case with Trump. I think he’s just never really wrestled with this or thousands of other questions that bear upon civic life, so he goes with his gut, which as I admitted above is much the same as my own on this question. He engages it on the level of the loudmouth at the end of the bar: I’ll tell ya ONE damn’ thing…
In a time not at all long ago — remember, Twitter didn’t exist before 2006 — we wouldn’t know this as readily as we do now. Sure, a political leader might go rogue during a speech, or get tripped up on an unexpected question during a press conference. But normally, the smart people surrounding a president would take something the president wanted to say and massage and process and shape it before handing it to a press secretary to drop into the daily briefing.
Now, the president-elect — or Joe Blow down the street — can have a gut feeling and without even fully processing the thought himself, immediately share it with the entire planet. As this president-elect does, often.
That’s a separate problem, of course, from the basic cluelessness of this president-elect. Not only does he not know a lot that he should, he has the impulse and the means to share that lack of knowledge and reflection with the world, instantly.
Quite a few people in public life haven’t figured out social media. They don’t understand something that editors know from long experience — that you have to be very careful about what you publish. (And yes, posting a random thought on Twitter does constitute publication.) Our governor, soon to be our U.N. ambassador, had a terrible time learning that, although to her credit she hasn’t done anything notably foolish on Facebook in a while.
For the second time in two weekends, President-elect Donald Trump stirred controversy, bigly, using only his thumbs.
With a trio of tweets Sunday alleging millions of fraudulent votes and “serious” fraud in three states, Trump effectively hijacked the news cycle for the next 24 hours with baseless conspiracy theories. A week prior, it was Trump’s tweets demanding an apology from the cast of “Hamilton” for disrespecting Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience the previous night.
It can all feel pretty small and sideshow-y at times. Some have a prescription: The media should resist the urge to cover Trump’s tweets as big news. Others even say we should ignore them altogether….
But we can’t. In the months and years to some — assuming no one gets control of him, and I doubt anyone will — we must treat them as seriously as if the president strode into the White House Press Room and made a formal announcement.
This is what we’ve come to. Our window into the mind of the most powerful man in the world will to a great extent be these spasmodic eruptions onto a tiny keyboard.
Never mind all the paintings you’ve seen; most photographs of “Hamilton” found via Google look like this.
In a comment earlier today, I sought to excuse myself from any errors in memory by confessing that I hadn’t read all of the Federalist Papers in decades.
Realizing that was lame, I decided that I should at least go back and read the one that addressed the subject at hand, the Electoral College. That’s Federalist No. 68, probably by Hamilton.
I must say, there was little mentioned about the importance of having the president chosen by states rather than masses of people, beyond oblique references such as these:
And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place….
Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States….
But such commentary is hardly necessary since the Constitution itself makes it perfectly clear that the president is to be chosen by electors who are themselves chosen by states:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Of course, there is a good deal to suggest that Hamilton thought it proper that the method of selection defer to “the sense of the people,” not least the fact that the House would be the body to decide if a clear winner did not emerge from the electors’ deliberation.
Note that the idea that there should be deliberation, and not an up-or-down vote of the people, was crystal-clear:
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations….
Also, remember yesterday when I suggested that “It would be nice for it to be an actual COLLEGE, in which people study year after year our nation’s history and political science, so that they are completely infused with the kind of knowledge that Donald Trump utterly lacks?”
Hamilton would have hated that idea, apparently. He thought the temporary nature of the college — assembled ad hoc, for the immediate task of electing a president once — was one of the system’s great virtues. Of the Framers, he wrote:
They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it….
The context of that, by the way, was in part to guard against this danger:
Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention….
Vladimir Putin might get a good chuckle out of that. But on the other hand, every foreign government except those of Russia and China preferred Hillary Clinton. Still, can the mechanism be said to work when the desires of our allies are thwarted, and the preferences of our adversaries granted?
If you haven’t wept for your country yet after last week, consider this hope of Hamilton’s:
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications…. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. … we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration….
The final irony is that, while today the College is perhaps the most reviled part of the Constitution, at the time Hamilton saw it as hardly needing defending, since it was one of the few parts not being heavily criticized:
THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded.  I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for….
I haven’t posted today in part because I accepted Steven Millies’ invitation to go speak to his poli sci class at USC Aiken, and I just got back.
Before I tell you about the class, I want to share this door I found in the Humanities building while looking for Dr. Millies’ class. You’ll see that it leads, according to the formal signage at top, to the Writing Room.
But no! When you look a bit closer (below), things are not what they seem. I don’t know why the wording of the less-formal sign struck me as so funny, but it did. The disagreement was just so stark — This is the Writing Room… NO! This is emphatically NOT the Writing Room. The Writing Room is over THERE, dummy!… The first sentence alone would have been funny. But the second sentence, with the little arrow, is what made it wonderful. I almost picture Marty Feldman pointing and saying, “There wolf! There Writing Room!…”
Anyway, I offered to speak to Steven’s class during a conversation after the Bernardin Lecture the other night (he and I serve on the lectureship’s committee), when he told me his American Government class was talking about media this week. He took me up on it.
And I had a blast, especially since I didn’t have to prepare a lecture. I just showed up and answered questions. Sometimes, with undergraduates or younger students, it’s hard to get questions, or at least hard to get relevant ones. This class did great. I hope I did all right for them.
But I seriously, seriously doubt they enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s hard to explain, but standing in front of a room taking and answering questions gets me really jacked up. I don’t know what it is. I’m not crazy about giving a speech, because it’s so… one-way. I stand up there giving a prepared talk, and I look at all those people staring at me, and I wonder, Is this interesting them at all? Is this what they were looking for when they invited me?
And I’m never sure, unless they laugh at a joke or something. So when I’m asked to speak, I always ask whether it’s OK to keep the talk short and move on as soon as possible to Q&A. Then I come alive — and sometimes even the audience seems to enjoy it.
After the class, I ran out to my car, all wired up, to make an important phone call I had scheduled for that time, and I really hope I didn’t… overflow too much on the person I was calling. I may have. I looked when we were done, and the call had lasted 41 minutes. Later, driving back to Columbia, I returned a call from earlier from a reporter at The New York Times wanting to talk about something having to do with SC politics, and I may have overdone that a bit, too. To my great surprise, shortly after that call, I was already back in West Columbia…
So basically, I guess, I’ve been blogging all over people today… just not in writing.
Anyway, I’ll give y’all an Open Thread in the next hour or so. I hope y’all appreciate it more than y’all usually do on a Friday afternoon, harrumph…
Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.
Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:
RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…
Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.
Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.
As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.
But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.
The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).
People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.
Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:
As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…
Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)
The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.
And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.
Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.
At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.
Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.
So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.
As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:
It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…
Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).
Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.
When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.
Hence what she said in that leaked speech.
I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.
So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.
It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?
Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?
But there are additional reasons to applaud these guys.
Back to how much I despise parties… I’m not going to go into all the reasons I do, but let’s look at two biggies — two things that have done more to make the parties into destructive forces in our republic than any other. Particularly the first one:
Party-protecting reapportionment. This is the biggie. If we fixed this, we would repair most of the damage the parties have done to our country. As things stand, almost every congressional or legislative district in the country is drawn — by lawmakers of whichever party controls the body — to make it completely safe for candidates of one party or the other. This makes the November elections a joke, and puts the real contest in each district in the primary of the controlling party. That means the only competition an incumbent has to worry about is a primary challenge from someone who is more extreme, more ideologically pure, in terms of that party’s ideology. That means both parties get pulled to their respective extremes, and the space in the middle — where members of each party can talk to members of the other, the place where solutions are found and commonsense legislation enacted — becomes depopulated. And our government flies apart, and ceases to function. Nobody can even speak the same language, much less find commonalities to build on.
Straight-ticket voting. I hate this for what it encourages voters to do, and even more for what it encourages them not to do. It enables them to avoid thinking. Voters who choose this option don’t have to think about any of the candidates on the ballot. They don’t have to be informed; they don’t have to discern; they don’t have to make comparisons. Which means they don’t have to pay attention before Election Day, or on Election Day. They just choose a party, and go home. This makes an utter travesty of the voters’ role in our representative democracy. And most shockingly, half of the voters in South Carolina choose this option.
Knowing how much I despise those things, imagine how pleased I was to find Jaime and Matt speaking out against both of them.
One way to make S.C. races more competitive, Moore and Harrison say, is to end lawmakers’ control over the process of drawing district lines.
The GOP and Democratic party leaders suggest a nonpartisan or bipartisan panel draw district lines, instead of lawmakers.
Massey, R-Edgefield, said convincing lawmakers to cede their influence over the redistricting process – and their political futures – would be a heavy lift. Even he would be “reluctant to give up that authority to an outside group.”
But Massey said he would support ending straight-party voting.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to take 30 seconds to push all the buttons,” he said. But, he added, there will be “partisans on both sides that are going to go ballistic over that if you try to change it.”
Yes, they would. As they would totally freak out over reapportionment reform. There is probably nothing that incumbents will fight harder to hang onto than their enormously destructive power to draw district lines so as to choose their voters, rather than letting the voters choose their representatives.
But that makes me appreciate all the more Matt’s and Jaime’s willingness to take a stand on this.
Jamie’s story also delved into the evil of straight-party voting. The story wasn’t as clear in term of communicating what the party chairs think of that, so I contacted them both yesterday to find out.
I reached Mr. Harrison via email, asking whether he was willing to take a stand against straight-ticket voting. He responded, “Personally yes… It isn’t the stance of the party, because the issue hasn’t come up for a party position. Nonetheless, I personally believe that is one of the many reforms we need.”
Amen. Later in the day I reached Matt Moore by phone and posed the same question. I didn’t ask for an official party position, but just asked whether he, Matt Moore, would take a stand.
And he did. There’s no proposal currently before lawmakers, but “in theory, I am for doing away with it.” He sees a need for “more informed voters,” and doing away with the straight-ticket copout would certainly be a way to demand more more knowledge, more attention, from voters.
We also chatted a bit about reapportionment, and it was along the lines of what he said about it in Jamie’s story:
Moore said he is glad his party controls the state Legislature, but the way district lines are drawn is taking its toll on the GOP nationally.
“It’s led to Republicans being in control of Congress, but being unsuccessful in presidential elections,” Moore said, adding the GOP’s difficulty in appealing to minority and younger voters stems from its candidates not having to campaign for their votes at home.
More competitive districts “would force candidates to go out and talk to people who don’t look like them.”…
And wouldn’t that be something wonderful? Lawmakers paying attention to everyone in their communities, rather than the narrow constituencies they’ve carved out for themselves through reapportionment.
I firmly believe it would cure a great deal of what ails our politics today.
And while it’s not a concrete step, I think it’s a great first step to have the chairs of both parties willing to talk about the need for change, rather than defending the intolerable status quo.
Senate candidate Susan Brill, left, watches as members of the Richland County delegation call on RCRC members to resign.
You hear tell of the advantage that incumbents enjoy over challengers in elections, and here is a prime example.
This morning, I went to the presser (which I’ll post about separately after this) where several members of the Richland County legislative delegation called on the worst five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign.
You’ll recall that Mia McLeod did the same alone on Monday, and got good coverage for it (Mia was not present today, but signed the letter along with three other lawmakers who couldn’t make it).
Looking very alone standing back behind the assembled TV cameras, watching the proceedings, was Susan Brill, Rep. McLeod’s Republican opponent in the race for the seat Sen. Joel Lourie is giving up.
She told me after that she agreed with what the lawmakers were doing: “I think their action is appropriate, and long overdue.” But the fact that she is not the incumbent, and therefore not a member of the delegation, relegated her to the status of spectator at the event.
Could she call a press conference of her own? Sure. Would it be as well attended as this one was, or as Mia’s was Monday? Probably not. They are legislators; she is not. She showed her interest by showing up, though. (Of course, Mia isn’t the incumbent in the particular office she and Susan are seeking, but she’s in the House, which is almost as good.)
I didn’t see any of the other media types talking to her afterward. They were busy talking to an employee of the commission who had attended and thanked the lawmakers (who I missed talking to because I was talking with Susan and the lawmakers). But I could have missed it…
Dang, dang, dang! I wrote this somewhat involved, extremely insightful comment a little while ago on my iPad, and lost wifi in the middle of saving it. Let me see if I can reconstruct…
Of course I’m a centrist, to the point that the term has meaning (more on that in a second). I’m an adherent of the postwar governing consensus, the area that Clinton and Blair tried to get us back to in the 90s. I disagree with those who would pull us way from it.
That said, “left,” “right” and “center” are fairly silly terms. I really don’t HAVE a comfortable place on the artificial left-right continuum, and trying to place me, or anyone who THINKS about issues rather than buying them off the shelf prepackaged, on that line can present problems. But since I’m not “left” or “right,” “center” is a convenient term to use.
It’s also convenient because I am for CORE values, not those on the fringes. Here’s what I mean by that…
Government is about solving problems together, or at least efficiently providing those basic functions that we have general agreement government should handle. So I’m interested in areas where the parties overlap, not the areas where they pull away from consensus. We need to identify and build upon those areas where we can work together. And if we get good enough at that, maybe we can branch out to some of the tough subjects.
For that reason, I generally don’t like dealing with Culture War stuff, and get upset when it looks like an election is going to be about such things. Bud says, for instance, he assumes I “still advocate” for traditional marriage. I wasn’t aware I HAD been advocating on that subject. At all. He also mentioned Blue Laws. At one point some years back I made a gentle, passing reference to the fact that opposition to blue laws is one of the sillier overinterpretations of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment clause. Having a sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. It’s just a gesture to basic human sanity. And I say that whenever Doug and Bud bring it up, which they do a LOT, because such a sensible suggestion is DEEPLY offensive to their libertarian reflexes. But I can’t recall advocating or campaigning for such. The most I’ve said is that it’s a shame to see such a life-calming custom go away.
Seriously, when I start campaigning for something, everyone can tell. (See: Confederate flag.)
But back to my point — I don’t see it as productive to invest a lot of political capital in those things, because the fights over them drive us apart and make it harder to agree on the things that should be easy.
The problem these days is that the parties and associated interest groups have polarized us so much that the area of consensus has gotten smaller and smaller.
Bud thinks this is a GREAT year. Well, in a couple of ways it is, but not the ways he thinks.
First, among thoughtful, informed participants and observers, there’s a greater willingness to step out from the stupid left-right, Democratic-Republican dichotomy and consider candidates on their merits. Once people do that, you see the Bushes (whom Bud despises so much), Graham, Sasse, Romney, et al., distancing themselves from Trump or opposing him outright. The latest encouraging manifestation of that is Meg Whitman declaring for Hillary, and the formation of a PAC to encourage Republicans to vote for the lesser of two weevils.
Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who think this is a normal, left-v.-right election and anyone who would support anyone but Trump is a liberal Democrat and therefore the enemy. But I prefer to celebrate the people out there who GET IT.
Also, with Trump as their standard-bearer the GOP has so abandoned the flag-and-country ground that the Democrats were able to co-opt it and position themselves as the party of traditional patriotism last week. In other words, the Dems celebrated the things that used to unite us all, rather than just concentrating on differences (the usual Identity Politics and class warfare stuff).
This is the year in which we could have used some “smoke-filled-room politics.” We wouldn’t have been in nearly the fix we are in.
First, we absolutely would not have Trump as the GOP nominee. It would never have come even close to happening. Nor would Cruz have ever been a possibility. Had GOP leaders been able to meet behind closed doors and choose the nominee, we’d have ended up with Jeb or maybe, if the party elders had wanted to be bold and reach out to a new generation, Rubio. Or if they’d deadlocked and we got really lucky, John Kasich.
Kasich. That would have been great. And Jeb or even Rubio wouldn’t have been bad at all. Nightmare averted.
The difference on the Democratic side wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. Hillary would still have been the nominee (unless the leaders, worried about her baggage, had prevailed upon Joe Biden to accept their nod). But… and this is not a difference to sneeze at… Bernie would never have been a factor, even for an instant. Most of us would probably still not know his name, unless we were into trivia. And the impact of that? Hillary would not have been pulled to the left, and she’d be running a far more solid, viable general election campaign reminiscent of her husband’s embrace of the Third Way in the 90s.
So we’d be better off all around. We wouldn’t be staring into a black hole of despair on the Republican side, and the Democratic candidate would be more appealing to a broader swath of the country.
Also, important to remember that parties have been born, fragmented, and died during the course of American history. The fact that we’ve had “Democratic” and “Republican” parties as the two main parties (even as each one’s identity has changed radically over time in many ways) since 1856 has made us forget that a little bit. Perhaps we are seeing the real fragmentation of the Republican party, an upheaval in the two-party system unknown for a century and a half.
Some of this may be attributed to the unusual nature of Trump as a candidate himself, but the wave he sits astride will not vanish with his probable defeat this November. The GOP will not go all kumbaya after this election, whether Trump loses narrowly or loses by a “yuge” margin.
It was a trenchant, relevant comment of the sort we expect from Phillip, and it got me going along these lines…
We’ve had these two parties for so long not because of anything special about these two particular parties and their respective, shifting platforms.
It’s about having two parties, period.
It’s about the binary paradigm. It’s about the fact that we decided some time ago that we had to have a dichotomy. Left and right. Winner and loser. Up and down. Black and white. American League (boo!) and National League. You get two choices, and that’s it. There are only two teams on a football field — there are no players out there wearing a third uniform, or no uniform at all — so why should politics be any different? Isn’t football the perfect analogy for life? (I may never fully extricate my tongue from my cheek after typing that.)
We’ve decided there have to be two parties. It doesn’t much matter how those two parties define themselves, or what they are called. We’re used to Democrat and Republican, so we stick with that. It’s convenient. We don’t care enough about the particulars of parties to try to start new ones, and besides, starting new parties means you might temporarily have three or four before they are winnowed back to two, and that’s contrary to the whole idea of the game.
Worse — and this is particularly maddening to someone who engages in ideas in the public sphere and despises both options — if you reject one option, tout le monde automatically places you in the opposite category. Because you’re not allowed other options.
And to digress – yes, my horror of being accused of adhering to Option B when I criticize Option A leads me often to make a point of noting that the same problem, or a problem of equal magnitude, exists with Option B. Hence the “false equivalence” that drives some of you to distraction. Except that it’s not false. I really mean it. It’s just that bringing up the fact may seem forced or out of place to you, no matter how elegantly I try to put it. You Option B folks wish I’d just point out the oh-so-obvious faults of Option A without gratuitously picking on your team. Sorry, but I’ve been conditioned to making a particular point of placing myself outside both camps to avoid confusion.
To digress from the digression: Interestingly, Option B in this analogy is pretty much always the Democrats. Y’all notice that? It’s usually, if not always, my more liberal interlocutors who complain of the “false equivalence.” A search for that phrase yields comments by Bud, Kathryn, Phillip, SCL and Tim. Not a conservative in the bunch. OK, not all of those accusations of “false equivalence” are aimed at me, but usually they are. SCL provides a particularly good example:
Honestly, you are the king of false equivalence. Have you EVER written a piece, going back to your editor days, that you didn’t try to fit into that “both sides are at fault” template? I’m not a member of either party, but you’re wrong to say the blame for this one lies anywhere other than 100% with the SCGOP….
I wonder why that is — that it’s usually, if not always, liberals/Democrats. I have a couple of theories. The first is that, as holier-than-thou as the Republicans can be, it’s Democrats who are more fully convinced of their own virtue, and of the other sides’ failings. So they are outraged by observations that challenge that. Does that strike you as true? Perhaps not. Here’s my second theory: That Democrats/liberals agree with Republicans/conservatives in seeing the media as liberal, and it particularly irks Democrats when they see a media type going out of his way to lay Democrats’ sins alongside those of Republicans. They feel that he’s letting down the side, breaking an unspoken pact. No? Well, offer your own theory.
Or maybe it’s just that I seem to make more of a point of it when I’m describing Republicans’ failings and feel the need to stick in the Democrats’, as opposed to vice versa — being particularly sensitive to that “y’all are all liberals” meme. And therefore, the Democrats are more likely to notice it…
It was at this point that I decided to turn this into a separate post. Your thoughts?
We’ve see the term “fascist” applied to Donald Trump and his supporters before now, but Robert Kagan explains quite clearly why that is not mere hyperbole. Fascist movements tend to be light on policy specifics and more about the personality around which they coalesce. They are less about what they are for, and more about what (and who) they are against.
The situation in which we find ourselves keeps reminding me of the title, if not the substance, of a Hemingway short story, “A Way You’ll Never Be.” The current state of our nation’s politics seems more suited to other countries and other times, not to us. And yet here we are, the way we never thought we would be.
But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.
And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.
That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as it has everyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous….
You should go read the whole piece. Share it with others. It’s important that everyone, or as many people who are able, understand what is going on, and that it has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats and the usual games they play. This is serious.
Wow, how many times have I said that over the past quarter century?
Actually, it’s easier to count the number of times I’ve been heeded by our solons at the State House. It’s somewhere around zero.
Through most of its history, South Carolina basically didn’t have much in the way of local government, especially on the county level. Our system of government was set up to serve the slaveholding class of big landowners, who didn’t cotton to bases of power other than their own. Consequently, rather than have separately elected county government, county legislative delegations ran things on that level. Today, 41 years after the Home Rule Act, we still have vestiges of that in the Richland County Recreation Commission, and those counties where the legislators still name school board members.
Supposedly, we empowered local governments with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975, but lawmakers have remained jealous of their prerogatives on the local level, and continue to lord it over the governments closest to the people — that is, the governments that ought to know best the needs and values of their own communities. Remember several years back when lawmakers tried to keep Columbia and other municipalities from banning smoking in public accommodations? They only backed down when the Supreme Court made them.
Here’s where I could go off on another screed about subsidiarity, but I won’t. Or maybe just a bit…
I will state the basic idea: Governmental decisions should be made by the smallest, least centralized level that is competent to handle the matter at hand.
So… if the people of a given community want to allow anyone who says he or she is of a certain gender use the restroom consistent with that identity, that person should be allowed to do so.
Speaker Jay Lucas, whom I respect a lot more than I do Lee Bright, is also wrong on this point — although his position is more defensible. He has a plant in his district that makes such plastic bags, and it employs a lot of his constituents.
You might not think that’s a defensible position, but I disagree. It’s an essential feature of representative democracy that all voters should be empowered to elect representatives who stand up for their interest (although one always hopes that the larger public interest should prevail).
It’s not inherently wrong for a lawmaker to stand up for jobs in his district. That doesn’t mean the other 169 have to go along with him.
No, the problem isn’t that the speaker is protecting jobs; it’s that he’s telling people who live in communities other than his how they should arrange their local affairs.
One could of course argue that under the principle of subsidiarity, balancing the economy vs. the environment is more properly a state rather than a local matter. And that makes some sense.
But I tend to see this more as a part of a long and disturbing trend in South Carolina.
Having recently discovered how the nomination process works in the Republican Party, Donald Trump is furious. “They wanted to keep people out,” he bellowed. “This is a dirty trick.” In fact, Mr. Trump is right on the first count and wrong on the second. Political parties do have mechanisms to “keep people out.” But far from being a trick, they are the crux of what makes parties valuable in a democracy.
Clinton Rossiter begins his classic book “Parties and Politics in America” with this declaration: “No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties.” In a large and diverse country, to get things done, people need devices to navigate the political system, organize themselves, channel particular interests and ideologies, and negotiate with others who have differing interests and views. Political parties have traditionally played this role in the United States. And they have often played it as a counterweight to the momentary passions of the public.
At the heart of the American political party is the selection of its presidential candidate. This process used to be controlled by party elites — mayors, governors, legislators. In the early 20th century, an additional mechanism was added to test a candidate’s viability on the campaign trail: primaries. Still, between 1912 and 1968, the man who won a party’s presidential primaries became the nominee less than half the time. Dwight Eisenhower was chosen not by primary voters but in a complex, contested convention.
1968 was the year things changed….
… and not for the better. That was when the Democrats, and then the Republicans turned toward letting primaries decide.
Which was when the parties lost the one characteristic that made them useful — providing the service of vetting candidates so that total whack jobs didn’t show up on the November ballot.
I remember the late David Broder waxing nostalgic about what parties had once been, and he hoped, could be again: entities that asked candidates the key question of “Who sent you?” — meaning, what reliable person or people vouch for you? The problem he was lamenting is that too often, the answer had become “I sent myself.” Which is how you get socially dysfunctional egoists such as Trump — and Ted Cruz — threatening to take the GOP nomination.
My response to that was that to the extent parties played that vetting role in the distant past, there was no sign they were prepared to play it now. And as I said then and now, the evil parties do greatly outweigh any slight benefit they still provide.
Anyway, I thank Mr. Zakaria for providing this small history lesson to people like the caller I heard on NPR this week who wanted to know why convention delegates had any say in the nominating process….
The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.
According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.
“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”
Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.
“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”
Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”
The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.
The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.
Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.
There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.
Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.
But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.