Category Archives: The Nation

Another special moment in the decline of America

blow-drying

Yeah, so this was on TV this morning.

There I was, minding my own business having breakfast, when I glanced up at one of the TVs on the wall there in the club’s lounge, and saw what you see above.

I got up, walked across the room and took a picture of it, not minding if people stared at me. I’m not proud. How could I be, living in a country in which this is deemed a subject worthy of conversation at all, much less on daytime national television? While I’m eating breakfast.

Going by the logo in the corner of the screen, apparently that was an episode of this show, where you can see gross stuff like this, and dumb stuff like this.

What is it Bryan’s always saying? Oh, yeah: What a stupid time to be alive…

Liberal friends, here’s an example of left-leaning irrationality

Some of my liberal friends here are constantly on my case for what they call my “false equivalence.” They believe they are not contributing to the careening, irrational polarization of our era — it’s the extremists on the other side who are entirely to blame.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat

Which, of course, isn’t true. Yep, the Republicans (or a lot of them) have been getting weirder and weirder in recent years, but  there are plenty of people on the left who are happy to keep pushing them away.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote a provocative column a day or two back. Basically the thrust of it was this: As objectionable as Stephen Miller is, maybe he needs to be at the table if a viable immigration compromise is to be reached. For years, we’ve tried fashioning a comprehensive solution without the nativists at the table, and nothing has passed. Maybe it’s time to try something else.

He concludes, “But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can only happen with someone like Stephen Miller at the table.”

This sent a lot of people ’round the bend, causing Douthat to spend much of the next few hours answering critics on Twitter. Some engaged what he actually wrote. But here’s what Salon said:

In case that Tweet embed doesn’t show you what I’m seeing (a frequent problem I’ve noticed), the headline of the Salon piece is “To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration,” and the subhed is “A New York Times columnist praises the whites-only rhetoric of Stephen Miller.”

I responded to that Tweet by saying, “That’s not what he wrote and it’s not what he meant. He was WRONG, but he didn’t commit the evil of which you accuse him…”

The closest Douthat comes to “praising” Miller is when, after nothing that about a third of Americans, like Miller “want immigration reduced,” he writes this:

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras….

But that is immediately followed by this:

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table…

… which leads to Douthat’s point that doing so hasn’t worked; maybe actually negotiating with these people could.

I read that as damning Miller with something harsher than faint “praise.”

Overall, I consider Miller and what he wants to do beyond the pale, because of the ugly nativism that animates the anti-immigrant position (and yes, in this case we’re talking anti-immigrant, not just anti-illegal immigrant). What he wants to achieve shouldn’t be dignified with serious consideration.

But it doesn’t make you a racist or a fan of racism to suggest that he should be let into the conversation.

And saying, in no uncertain terms, that it does is itself an example of the kind of extremism that’s driven our country apart.

Now you’re acting more like yourself, Sen. Graham

I don’t know what LIndsey Graham thought he was doing the last few months, building his new reputation as the “Trump Whisperer.” Did he think he could manage the grossly unfit POTUS, guiding him gently toward wise policy on immigration and making him think it was his idea?

Whatever his plan was, it didn’t work, and the moment that became fully apparent seems to have been the infamous “s___hole” meeting a week ago.

Now, he seems to have decided to concentrate his attention on actual grownups, people with whom he can have intelligent conversations and not feel the need to delouse afterward. He sent out this release yesterday:

Momentum Growing for Immigration Reform Proposal

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today welcomed the support of Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) for a path forward on DACA and immigration reform.Graham-080106-18270- 0005

They will join Republicans Graham, Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) in backing this measure and working to protect Dreamers.

“It’s imperative that Congress act quickly so that young people who were brought to the United States as children, through no decision of their own, can stop living in fear of deportation.  I have talked with Dreamers living in Maine who have grown up in our State and have known no other country as their home,” said Senator Collins.  “This issue transcends political divisions, with members of both parties expressing sympathy for the Dreamers and support for a legislative solution.  I am proud to join this growing bipartisan group of leaders in advancing this important effort that will fairly address the needs of the DACA population, strengthen border security, and help improve our immigration system.”

“President Trump and the bipartisan members of Congress who met at the White House ought to be able to agree on a proposal that both secures our borders and provides a solution for DACA recipients,” said Senator Alexander. “I intend to support such an agreement which is why I’m cosponsoring the Graham proposal as a starting point for reaching consensus and will support other responsible proposals.”

“I am proud to be a part of this bipartisan solution for the Dreamers,” said Senator Murkowski. “We should not punish children for the actions of their parents. Those who were brought to this country by their parents, were raised here, educated here, lived here, and dreamed here, should be welcomed to stay here. They should have the right to work and a path to citizenship. Fulfilling that dream renews our American Dream. I have consistently cosponsored legislation to provide just that, and I am heartened to see so many diverse voices supporting a legislative solution for the Dreamers.”

“I thank Senator Graham and others for their commitment to strengthening border security and fixing our broken immigration system,” said Senator Rounds. “The current proposal is an important first step in more immigration reform that secures our borders and transitions to a merit-based system. Legal immigration is a proud part of our nation’s history, and today it plays an important role in our economy – including South Dakota’s own workforce which depends on temporary, H2B visa workers to fill jobs during the busy tourism and construction seasons. While this bill is not perfect, I will continue to work on a product that includes appropriate e-verify provisions, a stronger border security system and lays the framework for more reform, including work visas. These are the provisions required for me to support the bill in final form so we can get to the next phase, in which permanently increasing the cap of H2B visas will be a top priority for me.”

“I’m very pleased that our bipartisan proposal continues to gain support among my Republican colleagues,” said Senator Graham. “Our hope is to bring forward a proposal that leads to a solution the President can embrace. The goal is to begin fixing a broken immigration system by fairly dealing with the DACA population, securing our border, and moving toward a merit-based immigration system. This proposal would receive wide support and is a good solution for Phase I as we move to Phase II, comprehensive immigration reform.  As we debate how to fix a broken immigration system and who to allow to become an American, we must not change what it means to be an American.  As I’ve always said, America is an idea defined by its ideals – not by its people.  The idea of self-determination and freedom to speak one’s mind, to worship God as you see fit, and to be served by the government – not the other way around.  I believe there is bipartisan support for that concept.”

 Highlights of the bipartisan proposal include:

  • At Least Ten Years Before a Dreamer Can Become an American Citizen:  It would be at least ten years before a Dreamer can become an American citizen.  The legislation calls for a 12-year waiting period, but select Dreamers who registered for DACA could earn up to two years credit for time. Dreamers – who do not receive any federal assistance or welfare today – will likely continue to be ineligible for welfare and federal assistance for the first five years they have legal status.
  • The current Diversity Visa Lottery will be abolished, and a new merit-based immigration system instituted in its place. Half of the Diversity Lottery visas would be allocated to a new system for ‘priority countries’ who are currently underrepresented in visa allocation.  A new merit-based system would ensure those visas are awarded to those most ready to succeed in the United States.  The other half of the visas would be allocated to recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  After the TPS backlog is cleared, all of the former Diversity Lottery visas will be allocated to nationals of priority countries under the new, merit-based system.
  • Additional Border Security Measures: The proposal contains $2.7 billion in border security improvements, including the planning, design, and construction of a border wall and additional surveillance and technology along the border. There will also be several provisions from border security pieces of legislation related to border infrastructure and Customs and Border Protection operations and oversight.
  • Down Payment on Chain Migration: Parents of Dreamers would be eligible for 3-year renewable work permits.  There are no new pathways for them to obtain American citizenship.  If they brought a child who becomes a beneficiary of the Dream Act into the country, they would be ineligible to be sponsored for lawful permanent residence or citizenship by any of their children. Additionally, lawful permanent residents would only be able to sponsor their nuclear family members, their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

They may not succeed, but at least he’s now working with people highly unlikely to disrupt a bipartisan meeting with an obscene racist rant…

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Burl’s 1st-hand account of the Great Missile Alert of 2018

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

You’ve no doubt heard about the false alarm in Hawaii today:

For 38 harrowing minutes, residents and tourists in Hawaii were left to believe that missiles were streaming across the sky toward the Pacific island chain after an erroneous alert Saturday morning by the state’s emergency management agency.

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. message transmitted across the state’s cellphone networks. “Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Only after an inexplicable delay by the state agency — during which residents scrambled to seek shelter and contact relatives — was a subsequent message sent describing the missile warning as a “false alarm.”

Not satisfied with mainland newspaper accounts, I turned to our intrepid correspondent on the scene, veteran newspaperman-turned-historian Burl Burlingame, to tell us what it was like.

Initially he responded with a text that said:

We’re OK but the neighbors have resorted to cannibalism.

Journalists are conditioned to react to incipient annihilation with gallows humor, and protocol required that I respond in kind, so I said, “Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances.” Then, with patience born of decades as an editor waiting for reporters to get off their a__es and file the actual story, I waited.

Eventually, he filed his report via Facebook Messenger. It follows:

In Hawaii, at 11:45 a.m. on the first working day of every month, sirens go off all over the state. You can hear them almost everywhere. Civil defense has them to warn of incoming missiles, but mainly because we’re a seacoast state with a low land mass that can easily be hit with a tidal wave or earthquake from almost any direction. Such natural disasters aren’t iffy; it’s just a matter of when …

So we take such alerts seriously.

The alarm clock on my phone was set for 8:10 a.m. this morning, so when it made noise I dimly perceived it as my wake-up call. Was it ever! It took a few moments to focus on incoming alerts and the top one said that missiles were incoming and it was not a drill.

Huh?

For a while, we’ve been getting practice alerts that are worded similarly — thanks, Trump! — although this one was most clear. But there were no sirens, no ancillary information being broadcast. Being an ex-journalist, I was pretty suspicious of a single phone alert with no backup.

I woke up the wife and told her to prepare to fight in Thunderdome after the imminent nuclear annihilation. She said OK and went back to sleep. Since she’s the night editor at the paper, I suspect she’s pretty busy this evening dealing with “I was there” stories.

There was some commotion in my neighborhood as folks were packing their cars. To go where?

I had an appointment at 10 a.m. to deliver a lecture and people were expecting me there, so I went. The electronic highway signs were already flashing MISSILE ATTACK WARNING IS AN ERROR / THERE IS NO THREAT and I mentally filed away the revelation that they are tied in with Civil Defense.

Many people were caught away from home and family. People dashed home or to churches. Tourists were rounded up off the beaches and sequestered in hotel lobbies. I expect there might be casualties from the panic.

No info yet on how this happened. It’s possible it was an online troll attack. People here are blaming Trump, but we’re expecting him to blame Hillary.

Good report. Short and to the point. And he didn’t speculate about anything he wasn’t sure about.

Gov. David Ige has now attributed the mess to a state employee’s errant push of a button. Yeah… I think the good folk of Hawaii are going to want a more complete answer than that…

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that sudden attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

Would you vote for Oprah?

Liz Lemon hallucinating about Oprah.

Liz Lemon hallucinating about Oprah.

Sources say Oprah Winfrey is “actively thinking” about running for president. Of the United States.

Not long after that broke, former Nikki Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey tweeted this question:

Remind me to ask Rob sometime how you set up a tweet like that. Now, back to the topic…

I answered “wut idk,” because I really don’t know. It would depend on the office she was running for (since Rob said “any”), who was running against her, and on me learning a lot more about her.

Having never watched her show (beyond that clip of Tom Cruise going nuts, which I think all America has seen) or read her magazine, and having certainly never heard her political views, I just don’t know. The longest exposure I’ve ever had to her was that episode of “30 Rock” when Liz Lemon took a tranquilizer before flying and hallucinated that Oprah was in the seat next to her.

I do assume (unless I learn some really bad stuff about her) that I would vote for her over Donald Trump for pretty much anything. That’s because while I don’t know of any great positive qualifications she has for the presidency, I’m also ignorant of any negatives. Whereas I’ve never seen a person in high office with more negatives than Trump.

Last time I looked, one person had answered Rob in the affirmative, three of us had answered idk, and the rest were negative. I wonder what makes those five people so sure they would never vote for this woman, for any office? Maybe they know of huge negatives I don’t know about, but I sort of doubt that…

How ‘America First’ helps bring about the Chinese Century

China's Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad...

China’s Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film, “Wolf Warrior II,” in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad…

Last night, New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos was on Fresh Air, talking about his new piece in the magazine headlined “Making China Great Again.” The subhed of the piece is “As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.”

No kidding. All the way home as I listened, my reaction was essentially “Duh!” I mean, everything he was saying about the way Trump has damaged U.S. standing in the world — and elevated that of China and others who can’t wait to fill the vacuum — was obvious. Anyone would know that this would be what would happen as a result of his “America First” idiocy.

Except, abundant evidence exists that this is not obvious to everyone. So I thought I’d share. And I learned a lot of details about how the predictable has actually played out. It’s particularly interesting to hear him talking about how Chinese leadership has figured out where all Trump’s buttons are, and manipulated him to their advantage at every turn.

Here’s the basic thrust of the New Yorker piece:

China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”

In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”

For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected….

This is something I’ve worried about for a long time. One of the first editorials I ever wrote for The State, probably in January 1994, was about the way China was quietly insinuating its way into positions of influence around the globe, including in our own Monroe Doctrine backyard — Latin America. But at least for the next 23 years, we had leaders who understood why this was a problem (as we had my whole life), and were taking steps to counter it — such as with the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, of which TPP was a critical part.

I never dreamed that we’d have a president who on Day One (OK, Day Three) would just trash it all, and invite China to jump in with both feet. Trump was so eager to do this that he even took a moment out of his busy first-week schedule of loudly proclaiming that his inauguration crowd had been the biggest ever.

And why does it worry me (one or more of my relativist friends will ask)? I always feel a little absurd having to explain it, but I feel a lot better living in a world in which the global hegemon is the planet’s greatest liberal democracy than in one dominated by the oppressors in Beijing. So should all of you who like to exercise your freedom of expression here on this blog. It’s that simple. Or rather, it’s that, and my belief that the rest of the world is better off with the U.S. playing the role China wants to play.

I recommend you listen to the radio interview and read the piece in The New Yorker. Then let’s discuss…

There is something truly unAmerican in the way Pence prostrated himself before Trump

I’d been hearing about the way the veep prostrated himself before Trump in the Cabinet meeting Wednesday, lavishing treacly praise upon him, slathering it shamelessly.

I just watched it, and I’m sorry I did. It’s bad enough having this man who demeans our country every moment that he holds the presidency. It’s even more depressing to see the man who would replace him, if we could rid ourselves of him, abase himself in such a orgy of sycophancy.

He lowers himself so, I hear overtones of something that doesn’t belong in America, or anywhere else in the West. I hear an Eastern potentate being addressed as the “Flower of Courtesy, Nutmeg of Consolation, Rose of Delight,” by a 19th-century supplicant begging forgiveness for imposing his miserable self upon the time of such a glorious personage.

Not to cast aspersions on other cultures or anything, but we just don’t talk to anyone this way in this country. At least, not before now.

The fact that we can’t see Pence’s face offers me a sliver of hope: Perhaps his eyes are blinking Morse Code: “T-O-R-T-U-R-E”…

toady

And Nikki had been doing so WELL lately…

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First, Nikki Haley was doing pretty well as a backbench S.C. House member, to the extent that we endorsed her twice. She had a lot to learn, but she seemed fairly bright and we felt her intentions were good.

Then, she ran for governor, for which she was shockingly unprepared. All I could say at the time was, “Don’t do it, Nikki!” But she did it. And for much of the past four years, she demonstrated how unprepared she was.

But toward the end, she showed some signs of growing in office. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. One of her own political appointees put it to me in just those words. I didn’t report that at the time because the next thing he said was, “And if you write that I’ll come to your house and kill you.” It didn’t seem worth it.

Then she got re-elected, and then in 2015 she did probably the finest thing she will do in her life, and I praised her to the skies and urged others to do so. Finally, I thought, she is a governor.

And then, owing Henry McMaster a major favor, you-know-who named her U.S. ambassador to the U.N. This was shocking, of course, because she had no known experience or understanding of geopolitics, either in a real-world or academic sense. So I braced myself.

But she has done surprisingly well. Not perfectly well, but amazingly so for someone entirely lacking in credentials.

I attribute this to one of her most remarkable innate attributes: She makes a good impression. Not just a good first impression, or a good second one — the effect continues through the 10th, the 20th and so on. Sometime after that, you might have creeping doubts, if you’re inclined that way. But it takes awhile.

And a talent like that can go a long, long way in diplomatic circles. Consequently, people started talking of her as a replacement for Rex Tillerson, who has no discernible diplomatic talents, and has been dismantling the State Department. She even gets mentioned as a possible future successor to you-know-who, but let’s not get into that.

The point is, she’s been doing well.

But sometimes old habits rise up, as in this Tweet:

Hey, at least she didn’t say that other thing people say they’re going to do in tandem with taking names.

You know what that reminds me of? When she presumed to “grade” legislators according to whether they had done her bidding. This was in 2011, long before she started showing signs of growing into the office of governor.

And this is disappointing. Here’s hoping Diplomatic Nikki makes a return, and soon…

Meanwhile, the bluster didn’t work:

United Nations Rebukes U.S. Over Jerusalem in 128-to-9 Vote

How fast can she write? That’s a lot of names to take in a short period of time…

Republicans in Washington actually do something

Today, Washington Republicans, nearly a year after capturing total control of both political branches, actually did something they had said they would do.

They passed a huge, complicated tax package that no one has made a convincing case the nation needs, that is startlingly unpopular (“24 percent of Americans say that the Trump-backed tax plan is a good idea, versus 41 percent who believe it’s a bad idea“), and that the experts predict will significantly increase the national debt.

Whatever it does to the country, the bill has made one man very, very happy...

Whatever it does to the country, the bill has made one man very, very happy…

But hey, they did something, whether it was a good idea or not, and they’ve wanted to do something for so long, so they’re excited about it. So, congrats, guys. I guess…

Paul Ryan can die happy now, his heart’s desire having been achieved. They say he’s been working toward this since 1993. Which tells you a lot about Paul Ryan.

I am not excited, partly because it is about money. And I just find it hard to get interested in money, even my money, during those anomalous periods of my life when I have some. Needless to say, I have not tried to decipher any of those stories out there that would tell me how I would fare under this boondoggle. Just don’t tell me, OK?

Anyway, that would not be the criterion I’d go by in judging whether this is a good move or not. The point is whether it’s good for the country. And I just can’t begin to tell you whether it’s a bad idea, or a worse idea. (Yes, hypothetically it could be a good idea, but I’ve been watching this come together, and that seems fairly unlikely. Perhaps I’ll be surprised.)

But perhaps some of y’all have passionate opinions on the subject, or even salient observations to make.

So here’s your chance…

Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?

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Molly Worthen can’t even spell her own name, but she writes a pretty fair think piece.

I read this one in the NYT last month, and kept forgetting to share it with you. Today, with Roy Moore possibly being elected to the U.S. Senate, seems a good day to rectify that.

The piece gets a little dry toward the end, but I want to share with you this good part at the beginning:

Over the course of the week, as Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, faced more allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young women and teenagers, many evangelicals leapt to his defense.

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

It’s no secret that humans — religious and secular alike — often act on “less than logical” impulses. Social scientists have documented our tendency to reject reliable evidence if it challenges our beliefs. Hours of tearful victims’ testimony will not deter evangelicals who see Roy Moore as the latest Christian martyr persecuted by the liberal establishment. “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.” …

I’ve never been much of one for badmouthing Fox News, mainly because I haven’t seen it or other cable TV news programs enough to be confident in making firm judgments.

But there is definitely something out there motivating “evangelicals” to vote for people who seem to have little to nothing to do with Christianity, and I can’t see it being church.

Something is taking the place of the gospel in these people’s thought processes. Or perhaps I should say in their guts, grabbing and holding them on a “less than logical level.”

And there’s something about that ritual of constantly watching TV, night after night, year after year, and getting hit with the same messages hundreds and thousands of times.

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people hear the same statements over and over in the night until they accept the truth of such statements without thinking. Indeed, they become incapable of considering the possibility that such statements might be untrue:

repetitions

(Never mind that “Idiots!” bit. Bernard had something of an inferiority complex, not being respected as much as an Alpha normally would be.)

These repetitions may be even more powerful in terms of engendering aversion, even revulsion. How else does one explain Republicans who knew better voting for Trump or a write-in, because they absolutely could not bring themselves to vote for the only person in a position to stop him?

Or how do you explain good people in Alabama who see the problem with Roy Moore, but — like Sen. Shelby — simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the Democrat (again, the only person who might stop Moore from disgracing Alabama, the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate)?

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing line of thought: What good is an hour in church once a week compared to hours of indoctrination in another sort of faith, every night for years?

That other Alabama senator ALMOST did the right thing

But he only went halfway in the honorable cause of trying to stop Roy Moore.

At first blush, one is inclined to pen a latter-day profile in courage at this news:

Shelby bucks his party and president to oppose Moore for Senate

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In his sternest rebuke yet, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said repeatedly Sunday his state can “do better” than electing fellow Republican Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate, making clear that a write-in candidate was far preferable to a man accused of sexual misconduct….

“The state of Alabama deserves better,” he said….

That’s fine as far as it goes, and can be described as real leadership — assuming anyone follows.

But the gesture is revealed as a halfway one when we look more closely at what he said:

“I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name. And I think a lot of people could do that,” Shelby told CNN’s “State of the Union.”…

Here’s a clue for anyone who doesn’t get my point: Writing in “a distinguished Republican name” shows Shelby isn’t entirely serious about stopping Moore. I don’t care how distinguished the name is. If it was Abraham Lincoln, he still wouldn’t have a prayer of beating Moore. Being dead and all. (And this being Alabama.)

Sure, the senator has seen to it that Moore doesn’t get his vote. But that only does exactly as much good as if the senator had simply not voted.

Someone has to beat Moore in order to prevent him from going to Washington. And there’s only one person on the planet in a position to do that: Democrat Doug Jones.

That Shelby cannot bring himself to vote for a Democrat even to stop his party from being shamed by Moore shows that he’s not quite the high-minded, above-the-fray statesman the headlines would suggest.

We’ve been here before, of course, and on a much larger scale. The nation is now reaping the bitter harvest of such thinking last year, when the woods were full of Republicans who knew it would be insane to elect Trump, and held back from doing so — but considered voting for Hillary Clinton to be so completely, absolutely unthinkable that they could not entertain the notion for a moment.

So they threw their votes away, rather than give them to the only person on the planet in a position to stop Trump.

This partisan mindlessness must stop if we are to save this republic. It just has to…

Shelby

Samuelson will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear

Robert J. Samuelson — whom I don’t read as often as I should because of his tendency to write about money and other things one can measure with numbers — is not a guy to read at all if you want him to tell you things you want to hear.

Robert J. Samuelson

Robert J. Samuelson

Well, let me amend that: I think the things he has to say are fine, when I can cut through the numbers and read him. But based on voting patterns I’ve seen in recent years, he’s likely to give a lot of other folks apoplexy.

For instance… not satisfied merely to slice and dice the Republicans’ contemptible tax “reform” plan last month, he strode right past the nonsense to speak a home truth: “Americans aren’t taxed enough.

He didn’t mean it in absolute terms, of course. There is no perfect amount of taxation, and saying “this isn’t enough taxation” in a vacuum would be as idiotic as say, also in a vacuum, that “Americans are taxed too much.” And Samuelson is not an idiot.

No, he means that as long as America means to spend X amount — and there has been no credible effort to reduce the lion’s share of spending — it must have the common sense and maturity to pay X amount in taxes. And it’s been a very long time since we’ve done that.

As he put it:

The truth is that we can’t afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes (my choice: a carbon tax), how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven’t yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven’t covered our spending with revenue from taxes…

We resist the discipline of balancing the budget, which is inherently unpopular. It’s what Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute calls “take-away politics.” Some programs would be cut; some taxes would be raised. Americans like big government. They just don’t like paying for it….

But if you think that’ll make some people mad, consider his column today. But first, someone bring the smelling salts for Bud and Doug. The headline is, “Why we must raise defense spending.” An excerpt:

Politically, the vaunted military-industrial complex has been no match for the welfare state’s personal handouts. There has been a historic transformation. In the 1950s and 1960s, defense spending often accounted for half of the federal budget and equaled 8 to 10 percent of gross domestic product (the economy). In 2016, defense spending was 3 percent of GDP and 15 percent of the federal budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, welfare programs — called “human resources” by the OMB — accounted for 15 percent of GDP and 73 percent of federal spending….

The result is this:

Here is the assessment of Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute:

“The United States now fields a military that could not meet even the requirements of a benign Clinton-era world. The services have watched their relative overmatch and capacity decline in almost every domain of warfare . . . for nearly two decades. As rival nation-states have accelerated their force development, the Department of Defense has stalled out, creating a dangerous window of relative military advantage for potential foes. . . . While the United States continues to field the best military personnel in the world, policy makers have asked them to do too much with too little for too long.”…

So, to summarize, we’re not taxing enough for the spending we’re doing, and we’re not spending enough to adequately perform what was originally the government’s chief responsibility.

And before I get the cliche response — citing numbers showing how much more we spend than other nations is pretty pointless. We emerged from 1945 as the chief guarantor of a security order designed to stave off World War III. And the only nations that have shown any interest in taking that mantle of dominant military power off our hands have been the very last big countries a believer in liberal democracy would want to see do so.

Samuelson may write too much about numbers, but I have to hand it to him: He goes right where the number lead him, regardless of whose ox gets gored, on both the left and the right…

Trump and Clinton were the two most-despised nominees ever. How do we avoid that in the future?

Red_state,_blue_state.svg

The election that made Donald Trump president was an unmitigated disaster for America and for the world it has led since 1945. And it’s hard to see how the nation is going to extricate itself and recover.

But things would not have been a bed of roses had Hillary Clinton won the election as well as the popular vote. You think Congress has been feckless and obnoxious this year (it’s great achievement passing an unneeded, execrable tax bill)? In the event of a Clinton victory, Congress would have spent all its time launching attacks and investigations against the woman many of the GOP members have hated with every fiber of their beings almost (and with some you could leave off the “almost”) since they were children. The nasty partisanship of the Bush and Obama years would be looked back on fondly as a golden age of harmony.

It was a no-win proposition. Of course, a voter with judgment and a conscience had to vote for Clinton because Trump had to be stopped and she was the only person in a position to stop him. But still, things would have been pretty bad had she won — just not as bad.

The country couldn’t win in 2016, because Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least-appealing nominees in the memory of pollsters. As FiveThirtyEight proclaimed in May 2016, “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking.”

How did this happen? Of course, in part it can be explained as simply a function of our partisan polarization: The candidate who appeals most to one side is the most hated by the other. But it’s way more complicated than that. These people were little liked among us independents, either. And these candidates were unique. Never before has a party nominated someone who was in the White House 25 years earlier, and started being despised by a large portion of the electorate way back then. Nor has a party picked a famously sleazy businessman with zero relevant experience, knowledge, understanding, or principles. So no, it was not politics as usual.

This predicament was in no way inevitable. As recently as 2008, both parties had opted for their most broadly appealing candidates, leading to what I, as an independent who (like so many) liked them both, saw as a win-win proposition. I regretted that I couldn’t vote for both McCain and Obama.

So how do we avoid this in the future? Well, the dream option would be for both parties to fall apart and to have some better system of winnowing the field suddenly and magically replace them. Do you see that happening? I don’t. Or rather, I see the falling-apart part happening, but not the replacing-with-something-better part.

Another option would be for the parties to stick around, but clean up their act to where they can put forth candidates who appeal to someone outside their most-committed respective bases.

I’m not seeing this happening so far. I heard on the radio the other day (but for some reason am having trouble finding it now) that Democrats have been working on “reforming” (Democrats sometimes use “reform” loosely, the way Republicans do with regard to taxes) their nomination process. I can’t give you specifics since I can’t find it now, but it sounded to me like they wanted to make the process more democratic, so that party elites can’t stack things in favor of their preferred candidates. This to me sounds like the opposite of reform. The insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the best argument I’ve ever seen for smoke-filled rooms. But then I have to acknowledge the inconvenient fact that Hillary Clinton was the choice of party elites this time. So what that tells me is that they need new elites.

(OK, I found something about the Democratic reform process. But it’s not what I was looking for.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans are cursed with power, and obviously haven’t a clue what to do with it. All of their pathological dysfunction has been nakedly on display this year, which is why the party has accomplished nothing but a tax bill that looks like a parody of everything the populists who voted for both Sanders and Trump despise about the GOP. Really, fellas? This is the big achievement that you think will save you? Basically, the GOP has spent the year staggering from disaster to embarrassment and back again. And hey, in a few days the Republicans in the Senate will likely be welcoming Roy Moore, the ugliest baby yet produced by the polygamous marriage of incompatible factions that is currently the Republican “big tent.”

I don’t have a magic wand or I’d be waving it like crazy to prevent 2020 from being like 2016, which would be more than either party seems to be doing so far.

Perhaps you have some ideas…

Hate to say it, but I don’t see this Trump thing ending well

It's not easy to keep a republic going. Ask the French -- they're on their Fifth, in less time than we've had one.

It’s not easy to keep a republic going. Ask the French — they’re on their Fifth, in less time than we’ve had one.

Some good people who place their faith in the rule of law may have gained encouragement from the guilty plea of Michael Flynn. After all, this is the case that Trump tried to get Comey to back off on, before firing the FBI director. Time to start up the impeachment apparatus!

Others will cite the continuing stream of evidence that the president is not right in the head, from making “Pocahontas” jokes when he’s supposed to be honoring the Navajo Code Talkers to telling people that he doubts that was him on the “Access Hollywood” tape — more than a year after admitting that it was. Obviously, a case for the 25th Amendment!

But setting aside the facts that a) Republicans would have to initiate and drive either of those processes for removing a grossly unfit president, and b) Republicans have shown us time and time again that they are too terrified of Trump’s supporters even to mutter a word against him, I don’t think it’s time to get optimistic that this madness will end soon.

Even if Republicans were ready, willing and able to take those steps, I’m pretty sure the original problem would remain: Trump’s fans would go ballistic.

The terrible truth that faces us is that no amount of evidence of Trump’s unfitness is likely to ever persuade these folks of the truth. They are inoculated against evidence. If the truth makes Trump look bad (and it most assuredly does), then to them it’s not the truth; it’s “fake news.” As unlikely as it would seem to most rational people, they actually seem to believe that. But whether they believe it or not, they act as though they do, which is what matters.

But so what? Most of the country can’t stand Trump, so those people can’t control what happens! Right?

Wrong, at least so far. Remember, most of the country held Trump in contempt at the time of the election, and yet here we are. More importantly, since the early 90s Republicans have been enormously successful at drawing electoral districts so that most of them are safe for Republicans. This, however, instead of empowering the people who drew those lines, has undermined them. It has caused them to walk in fear of someone running to the right of them in their next primary. Consequently, as a result both the election of a lot of those extremists and the fear of such occurrences on the part of more moderate Republicans, the party has moved farther and farther out onto its own fringe.

Even if the current GOP House got up the nerve to impeach Trump, it’s highly likely that what they fear would occur: They would be replaced by others who are more extreme than they are.

But forget the insidious effects of gerrymandering. The fact is that the nation can ill afford to have the Trump bloc, minority though it is, believing they were cheated out of having their guy in the White House. I’m not talking about armed insurrection here, although we can’t totally rule that out. I’m saying our system of government would have its greatest crisis of legitimacy it has ever faced. (At least, since 1860-65.)

Remember the snit fit Democrats had after Gore was found to be the loser in Florida (and he was the loser in Florida)? It went on for eight years, and many of them still believe the U.S. Supreme Court “stole” the election and “gave it” to Bush. And these were relatively sensible people, not a cult that worships at the altar of “alternative facts.” (In fact, there was one way you could have counted the votes so that Gore won — just not the way Gore had demanded they be counted. That way, and most ways, he lost.)

There is already ample evidence that the common vision of what America is all about has largely been lost, and not only among Trump voters who think “liberal democracy” means a democracy run by Nancy Pelosi. David Brooks had a good piece on that a couple of weeks ago.

As divided as we are, can you imagine what it would be like if some 30 percent of the electorate — a bloc utterly immune to contrary evidence — was convinced that it had been robbed?

How would we ever get back on an even keel? And even if the next occupant of the Oval Office is the best president we’ve had in 50 years, how would he or she lead us?

There was a thoughtful piece in The Washington Post today arguing that the only good way to get rid of Trump will be at the ballot box in 2020. But given the facts on the ground at this moment, can we even be confident that that would happen?

(Get back to me in a few days. I’m still reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon, and I’ve finally gotten up to the events of 49 B.C., and steeping oneself in that era is not a thing likely to inspire confidence in the staying power of republics…)

To cross or not to cross?

To cross or not to cross? Either way, the Republic’s pretty messed up…

Nice try at seeming balanced, senator — but you failed

Back in the late ’80s, when The State had money for such things, my duties as governmental affairs editor included supervising the South Carolina Poll (at least, I think that’s what we called it — it’s been a long time).

Cindi Scoppe was the reporter I had working on it, because she had studied polling at UNC-Chapel Hill and was keenly interested in the process. She also had the kind of incisive mind, even as a very young reporter, that meant for a very critical eye when we were drafting the questions (which is why I later brought her up to editorial).

She and I and Emerson Smith, who used to bridle when I called him our “pollster” in print (political polling was more of a sideline for him, but he proved to be very good at it), would work hard at making sure that every question was as neutral as possible, and would give us the cleanest possible read on what the public really thought. This, of course, is how journalists spend a great deal of their time and energy — even though Trump supporters and that O’Keefe idiot think journalists do the precise opposite, bending the news to their supposed biases. (They think this because they know zero, zip, nada about journalists and what motivates them. And because they have the kinds of brains that assume if someone isn’t reinforcing their biases, that someone is biased. Especially now that there are plenty of information sources that will humor them.)

I think we did a pretty good job. I can’t confirm that with evidence on the issue questions, but Emerson’s polls were remarkably accurate on the kinds of things that can be confirmed — such as predicting election results.

Anyway, stepping outside of what you think in order to pose a neutral question takes practice, I guess, and politicians don’t get much of that kind of practice.

So it was that when Lindsey Graham tried to poll his constituents about the tax plan he and his GOP colleagues are determined to rush through Congress before anyone has a chance to stop them, I think he really tried to at least look like he was posing the question fairly.

But he fell short. Way short.

Here’s what he sent out:

unnamed (4)

TAX REFORM IN THE SENATE

Dear Friend,

The United States Senate will begin debating tax reform tonight and I want to hear from you on this important issue facing our nation.

Supporters of Tax Reform:
President Trump supports tax reform and has pushed the Senate to pass this important piece of his agenda for America.  In fact, he came to the Senate yesterday to push Senators to support this plan.  His pitch was simple – hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn.  According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket.  The legislation also will benefit business by creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.

Opponents of Tax Reform:
Opponents of tax reform have said they believe it is unnecessary and the Senate should defeat it when it comes up for a vote.  They have expressed concerns that tax reform could benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower income Americans.  They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose tax reform, hearing from you allows me to better represent your interests in the United States Senate.

Make Your Voice Heard:

Click here to share your thoughts

I appreciate you taking this opportunity to make your voice heard before this important vote.

Sincerely,

Lindsey O. Graham
United States Senator

It looks nice, and sounds nice if you read it aloud in a calm voice and don’t engage in critical thinking. Of course, I’m talking about where he tries to make the case against the legislation.

But come on. What would be the first thing you would want to mention as an argument against it, assuming you were a fair-minded person. What’s the thing that even a person who thought this package of cuts was wonderful might have qualms about?

Why, the deficit of course. That’s why Bob Corker has demanded, as the price of his support, a trigger that will automatically raise taxes if this “reform” increases the deficit the way it certainly will.

But there’s no mention of that. So right away, this attempt at “fairness” fails. Then, of course, it gets worse: “They have not offered an alternative proposal and feel our current tax system is working as intended.” To which the average recipient on his mailing list responds, They haven’t even offered an alternative (you know, like Republicans on health care)? Then screw ’em! And in what universe is there an idiot big enough to believe “our current tax system is working”?

Of course, I’m only analyzing the way he presents the “con” side.

His representation of the “pro” side is shilling of a shameful order. If I were to parody an attempt to condescend to the prejudices of the kind of people who voted for Trump (something the senator is doing a lot these days), I would probably think I’d gone overboard if I wrote something this embarrassing: “President Trump supports tax reform…” “this important piece”… “hard working Americans should be allowed to keep more of what they earn”… “in South Carolina the average family would be allowed to keep $2,391 more in their pocket” (translation: We will pay you $2,391 to support this bill!)…  creating more than 13,000 jobs in our state.”

Gimme a break.

No, wait! I take that back — you might take that as “Yes, I want my tax break!” But I don’t, because I haven’t heard anything about this bill that persuades me it’s a good idea. And this laughably transparent bid for my support didn’t help your case…

‘Pay no attention to the lady who brought no doughnuts…’

A South Carolinian features prominently in probably the oddest story of the day out of Washington:

As a Republican congressman, Mick Mulvaney called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a “joke” and said he wished it didn’t exist. On Monday, Mulvaney showed up at the agency’s D.C. offices with a bag of doughnuts and a new title: boss.

Mick Mulvaney

Mick Mulvaney

But after a frantic weekend of political and legal posturing, Mulvaney’s arrival represented a new escalation of tensions over who ultimately will lead the agency. A day earlier, Leandra English filed suit claiming she is the “rightful acting director.”

Leadership of the agency was thrown into doubt last Friday when Richard Cordray stepped down as CFPB director and said his chief of staff, English, would temporarily replace him. A few hours later, Trump named Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director and a longtime critic of the CFPB, to the job….

Mulvaney and English even sent out dueling email messages to CFPB’s likely befuddled 1,600 employees. English said in her message, “I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving in mind, I wanted to take a moment to share my gratitude to all of you for your service.” English ended the note with her claimed title: “Acting Director.”

Shortly after, Mulvaney, already in the director’s office, according to photos taken by his staff, responded with his own email.

“It has come to my attention that Ms. English has reached out to many of you this morning via email in an attempt to exercise certain duties of the Acting Director. This is unfortunate but, in the atmosphere of the day, probably not unexpected,” he said.

“Please disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as acting director.”…

I hope the Post will forgive that long excerpt, but there was no one graf that fully expressed the absurdity of the situation.

Who’s right? I dunno. But hey, at least Mulvaney brought doughnuts. What’d you bring, Ms. English?…

Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

How’s Election Day going (if you’re having one)?

file photo

2014 file photo

Joe Azar sent this out a few minutes ago:

Voting is today for city council. If you do not vote, you can complain all you want about city government, but nothing changes. I am challenging a 4 term incumbent, and it is time for change. Please go vote for Joseph Azar.

Polls are open a few more hours, until 7p.m.

Oh, yeah! I’m not voting today, but other people are. I have a separate notification from the SC Democratic Party that notes there are elections in 123 municipalities in our state, plus a special election down in Charleston.

And POTUS started the day throwing his weight around in a gubernatorial election in Virginia, where an erstwhile establishment Republican is trying to win using Trump/Bannon tactics. For instance, he’s campaigning against “sanctuary cities” even though Virginia has no sanctuary cities. Poor Virginia! Aren’t you glad we don’t have nonsense like that down here? Oh, wait…

So… have you voted? Are you going to vote? How’s the turnout (I sort of think I know, but let’s see if I’m right)?

Or would you just like to comment on what’s going on out there? If so, here’s your chance…