The Airing of Grievances, 2016 election edition

When Thomas Jefferson was noodling around for a device to explain the British colonies’ reasons for declaring independence, he settled on the direct approach: yes, he got all fancy with his language, but that was scattered around a simple recitation of “the causes which impel them to the separation.”  He went with the straightforward airing of grievances, a tactic later employed by the founders of Festivus and now by a prominent Republican political pro in making the case against Donald Trump.

Mark Salter’s essay in Real Clear Politics is the piece I wish I had written: a string of declarative sentences which plainly and damningly gather the indictment against the man who is about to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president.  Read the whole thing, and then try to excuse your way to voting for Trump…especially you, Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders who condemn Trump’s actions but still profess support for the nominee of your party.  What kind of party unites behind this:

He’s an ignoramus whose knowledge of public issues is more superficial than an occasional newspaper reader’s. He casts his intellectual laziness as a choice, a deliberate avoidance of expert views that might contaminate his ill-informed opinions.

(snip)

He’s a charlatan, preposterously posing as a business genius while cheating investors, subcontractors, and his own customers. He’s rich because his father left him a great deal of money. He couldn’t turn a profit with a casino, for crying out loud.

(snip)

He possesses the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old. He can’t let go of any slight, real or imagined, from taunts about the length of his fingers to skepticism about his portfolio.

(snip)

He doesn’t appeal to a single honorable quality or instinct in our society. He exploits fear and incites hatred. They are the emotions that impel him. He wants us to make our way in the world as he does: selfish, insecure, angry, scapegoating, small.

There’s more; please read it.  On issues both foreign and domestic, on the economy and national defense, from personal to professional, Salter reminds us of things we should consider when choosing a candidate to support and to vote for, and notes how Trump fails to meet the standard.

None of this makes it easier to vote for the deeply flawed candidate of the Democrats, but Salter notes of Hillary Clinton “she’s not ignorant or hateful or a nut. She acts like an adult, and understands the responsibilities of an American president.”  Well, it’s a place to start.

Fight the normalization of Trumpism

A year ago the Republican establishment felt pretty good about its prospects, crowed about the outstanding group of people who were running for president, and acted confident about the party’s chances of winning back control of the executive branch of the national government.  Today we see party leaders trudge to the microphone with all the cheer of a condemned man on the way to the gallows to endorse He Who Has All But Won the Party’s Presidential Nomination, while a growing Greek chorus is warming up a “not so fast” refrain for an electorate faced with two bad choices.

Stepping out from the chorus today, in National Review, Charles Murray issues an important challenge to what he calls the conservative establishment: go on the record—now; right now—with your view of Donald Trump.  It’s not good enough for Republicans or conservatives to shrug their shoulders and side with Trump because they disagree with Hillary Clinton on the issues and think she’d make a worse, or much worse, president, he argues.  Although voters often have to pick from among two or more bad choices, Murray calls on those who make politics their livelihood to assess Trump as a candidate for president without comparing him to the presumed Democratic nominee or any other particular candidate.  Tell us, does the man meet your standards as a potential president; what’s your real opinion.

Murray answers his own challenge: “Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history.”  OK.  It is not, he says, just that Trump is greedy and venal and narcissistic, or even that he’s a liar…anyone could miss a few facts:

Then it gets a little more important, as when [Trump] says Paul Ryan called to congratulate him after his victory in the New York primary, announcing a significant political event that in fact did not happen. Then the fictions touch on facts about policy. No, Wisconsin does not have an effective unemployment rate of 20 percent, nor does the federal government impose Common Core standards on the states — to take just two examples plucked at random from among his continual misrepresentations of reality. That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.

It’s one thing when a candidate knowingly deceives the public on a few specific topics. Hillary Clinton has knowingly tried to deceive the public about her flip-flop on gay marriage and her misuse of her e-mail server. That’s bad. It should be condemned. This aspect of her character should affect one’s deliberations about whether to vote for her. It’s another thing entirely when a candidate blithely rejects Pat Moynihan’s (attributed) dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.”

Murray links to other writers who have made their own contributions to the growing collection of reasons why Trump is unfit, and it turns out they are some of the very same pieces I’ve been saving for future reference: Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, among others.  They have identified aspects of the candidate’s character that should make any reasonable person nervous at the prospect of a President Trump: the bullying, the unreconstructed pandering to voter fear and racial prejudice, the threats against journalists who dare ask pointed questions, the unrealistic view of the modern world and America’s place in it.

I am told that it is unfair to speak in such harsh terms of a person I don’t know personally: Look how nice his kids seem to be. Look at all his friends who say that he’s really a pleasant fellow in private. Sorry. I don’t need any secondary sources. Donald Trump makes the case for David Brooks’s assessment in every public appearance. When a man deliberately inflames the antagonism of one American ethnic group toward another, takes pleasure in labeling people “losers,” and openly promises to use the powers of the presidency to punish people who get in his way, there is nothing that person can do or say in private that should alter my opinion of whether he is fit to be the president of the United States.

I know that I am unlikely to persuade any of my fellow Establishmentarians to change their minds. But I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone: Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you. Just watch and listen to the man. Don’t concoct elaborate rationalizations. Just watch and listen. [emphasis added]

That’s important.  His ability to (apparently) win the nomination of one of the two major political parties for president of our country, as stunning as it is, shouldn’t be our excuse to relax and think, well, if the GOP thinks he’s fine then I guess he must be; I must’ve misunderstood some of what he said (or the media reported it wrong!).  It will be tough to do, but don’t let the sheer lunacy of what he says wear off—don’t just get used to the outrageousness and let it become normal, become just another opinion.

And, one more thing from Murray:

…contemplate this fact about history: We have had presidents whose competence once in office was better than we could have anticipated. Truman, for example. We have had presidents whose characters were subsequently revealed to be worse than they had seemed during the campaign. Kennedy, for example. We have never had a president whose character proved to be more admirable once he was in office than it had appeared during the campaign. What you see on your television screen every day from Donald Trump the candidate is the best that you can expect from Donald Trump the president. “Hillary is even worse” doesn’t cut it.

It’s a Daily Double!

Now, what was I just saying (in the preceding post): politicians think voters are stupid, yes, but some seem to have no problem letting us voters know that they’re cut from the same cloth.  I give you, former Texas governor Rick Perry.

In a ceremony at the state capitol in Austin on Friday, a day after John Kasich joined all the other Republican presidential candidates on the sideline, which signaled the official start of a full-fledged identity crisis for the Republican Party (how entertaining!), our former governor and erstwhile GOP presidential contestant, a man who endorsed Ted Cruz for president and had called Donald Trump, among other things, “a cancer on conservative politics,” ever-so-casually endorsed Trump and even allowed as how he would campaign for him and wouldn’t mind being his running mate.

Then Perry took the hypocrisy one step further and explained that it’s all just politics:

“If you recall back in 2011, 2012, I probably said some harsh things about Mitt Romney,” Perry said of the first of his two unsuccessful runs for the GOP presidential nomination. “He said some harsh things about me. We are competitors, so the rhetoric is the heat of battle. It’s in the chaos of the presidential bid. … If one doesn’t understand that, then they don’t understand how our process of elections works. We compete, and then we let bygones be bygones.”

So, he really didn’t believe what he trash-talked about Trump before?

“As late as this last week … I said he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen. He knows how to market. He knows how to brand. He’s vanquished 16 pretty capable men and women,” Perry said. “So, from the standpoint of his being capable to lead, to have the vision to take this country forward, I think it’s important to have a president who understands economically how to move this country forward and how to build our military back up – an individual who knows how to govern.[“]

Excuse me: you can say anything you want about another candidate during a campaign, and you presume that I know that you don’t really believe any of it, because it’s all “just politics?”  A campaign is the opportunity to make shit up about your opponents, and it’s OK because while the people are stupid enough to choose who they support based on your lies, they’re also smart enough to know that you’re lying and that’s no big whoop because it’s just politics?

Oh, and another thing: you think Trump is qualified to be president because he can market!?  And somehow you look at Trump and see someone who knows how to govern!?!?  Put your glasses back on, Paint Creek, and take a closer look.

 

 

Oh, for a little straight talk now that spring is in the air

The political reaction to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is the clearest evidence I’ve seen lately of the sclerotic thinking that passes for wisdom and strategy in American politics.  Not saying I’m surprised, mind you, just saying.

Don’t get me wrong: every vacancy on the Supreme Court of the the United States, ever, has been the occasion for political plotting and pontificating…that’s the nature of the beast.  Maybe there was more lip service paid in the past to observing “a decent interval” before going public, but we know that one reason the successful professional political players are successful is that they don’t let an opportunity to gain advantage go to waste.  In this case, Scalia’s body hadn’t made it home to Virginia before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to block anyone nominated by President Obama in the hope that a Republican wins the presidency this November.

Why?  Because “The American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice”?  Excuse me, Mr. Majority Leader and avowed Obstructionist-of-Obama-in-Chief, but that’s not the way it’s done and we all know it.

There isn’t—or shouldn’t be—any disagreement on the facts: the Constitution gives this president the responsibility to nominate a new justice in this case, not the next president; many of the same Republican senators now insisting that the process must be put on hold for the good of the nation had very different opinions when the question came up during the last few months of George W. Bush’s presidency.  (Yes, plenty of Democrats have more than a passing acquaintance with hypocrisy as a political tool, too, starting with Chuck Schumer on this same topic eight years ago; I’m sure some of you have more examples.)  Also true is that the Constitution gives responsibility to the Senate to approve or reject that nominee, with no timetable or deadline for doing so.

There’s no question that McConnell and the Republican majority have no legal requirement to approve President Obama’s nominee, or even to put the nomination to a vote.  They may make the political calculation that stonewalling for a year is the better path: bet on winning the White House and holding the Senate so they can have their pick of ultraconservative judges, versus running the risk of losing both and allowing the Democrats to choose another Douglas or Brennan (if one can be found).  I wish they would just say so, instead of going to the well for another round of the Obama Apocalypse that (inexplicably) plays so well with a certain portion of the electorate.  Andrew Prokop at Vox.com wrote them a first draft of such a speech:

Justice Scalia was a strong, solid conservative. And whoever Barack Obama nominates to replace him is certain to be well to his left — and will likely be very, very, very far to his left.

This would upset a balance of power in the Court that has existed for decades. Instead of a five-vote majority that is generally conservative, a Scalia replacement appointed by President Obama would allow a new majority bloc of five solid liberals to form. On issues affecting free enterprise, the sanctity of human life, and federal power, sweeping new liberal rulings could reshape law and precedent across America.

I believe this would be a disaster for the country. Most members of my party believe this would be a disaster for the country. And most of my party’s voters believe it would be a disaster for the country.

So I’m going to do my best to stop it from happening.

(snip)

…in suggesting that President Obama shouldn’t appoint any replacement for Scalia, and that he should just leave it to the next president, I am rhetorically going further than others have in the past.

But really I’ve just hit the fast-forward button. We would have ended up opposing whomever Obama nominated, because that person would, of course, have had liberal views. And my party’s senators would never have approved any other Obama Supreme Court nominee anyway, because they’re terrified of losing their seats in primaries.

So maybe my “no nominees in the final year” position hasn’t explicitly been taken by anyone before, but it hardly means the death of our constitutional democracy. The near-term upshot is that one Supreme Court seat stays vacant for a year. Some closely divided cases will effectively remain unresolved for a bit. Big deal.

Advice from the right to the right-er

Anybody can sit back and disgorge him-or-her-self of comments on the outrageous stuff in the news and on the Web; tut-tutting what Donald Trump says doesn’t really require you to burn many calories.  This year I’m renewing my effort to keep an eye out for things that are less obvious, but offer some insight that we could all find useful.

You don’t have to be conservative, or “a conservative,” or even “a Movement Conservative,” to get something out of Jennifer Rubin’s “Right Turn” blog in the Washington Post (there’s a link in the Blogroll over there) , and I’d like to offer this link to her recent list of suggested resolutions for Republicans for this year.  Here are my favorites, with comments.

“2. Do not imagine that the entire party is made up of the most vocal, extreme elements in talk radio. There is no sign — not in respected polling or election results — that the party is entirely, or even primarily, made up of nativists and “very conservative” voters. You might think so if you are elected from Texas or Alabama, but thinking that is a microcosm of the country leads to disastrous results.”

  • Many of us forget this one.  The most radical elements of the GOP make the most noise and have worked their tails off to become politically powerful within the organization; but as is true with many groups, the loudest members don’t necessarily speak for the majority.  But the non-radical center had better come to play, or one day there won’t be a place for them in the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

“3. The country has accepted gay marriage, so move on. There are not sufficient states for a constitutional amendment nor is any president going to be able to stack the court with justices willing to overturn the gay marriage ruling. (The court won’t even find Obamacare unconstitutional.) Preaching defiance of the court is crazy talk and simply tells voters that Republicans are out of touch.”

  • Time to let this one go: it isn’t about the sacrament of marriage in your church, it’s about equal protection and equal treatment under civil law, and you don’t want to be arguing against that.

“7. Give up the fixation on the mainstream media. Yes, there is coverage that is tilted, invariably in the liberal direction. Yes, conservatives are held to a different standard. It should be called out. But so what? It’s not an excuse for failure, and voters don’t want to hear a lot of whining about how the deck is stacked. Moreover, Republicans benefit from being tested in interviews and debates by those with whom they disagree.”

  • Journalists are supposed to question the statements and beliefs of candidates and officeholders; they do it to Democrats and Libertarians and independents, too, but we don’t hear them complaining like you.  If you don’t like the critical attention, get a new line of work.

First step on the new path…don’t know where it’s going to lead.