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A Serious Man

[ 73 ] July 20, 2016 |


I mean, what could possibly go wrong with a Trump presidency?

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Don’t worry, it’s not like the vice president will be an ultra-reactionary governor or something.


A Narcissism Supreme

[ 136 ] July 20, 2016 |


Naderism in 2000 was a terrible idea that had horrible consequences. But it did occur in a context in which the Democratic Party had legitimately moved to the right, and in which the Republican candidate was running as a moderate (a con that should have been easy to see through contemporaneously, but never mind for now.) Replicating Nader’s tactics in an election in 2016, with the Democratic Party well to the left of where it was in 2000 and the Republican Party not only well to the right of where it was in 2016 but openly running someone both considerably more reactionary and even more cartoonishly unqualified than George W. Bush is indefensible and not even understandable. And let’s be clear: Jill Stein is at this point a reprehensible public figure willing to risk inflicting harm on many of the most vulnerable citizens for what is at best a pointless exercise in ego gratification.

Which won’t stop her defenders from embarrassing themselves. Cornel West has the latest entry in the “if I say neoliberal enough times it will justify my efforts to elect Donald Trump, who I concede is a neofascist” genre:

We were looking to include them within the platform, so at least it was on paper. Now, of course, putting it on paper is different than putting it in practice. A declaration is different from the execution. But we lost over and over again, because the Clinton people lined up and voted against it. That’s why I, of course, abstained, initially, at the move from writing the draft, and then we took it to the platform committee in Orlando. I was also a member of the platform committee. And I had to abstain again, because—even though they didn’t allow for abstention; it was just no or yes. But there’s no way, based on moral grounds, those based on my own moral conscience, that I could support that platform.

So, to review, Bernie Sanders, the runner-up, was given an unusual amount of influence in drafting the party platform, and in part because of this the result was the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. But because the runner-up did not win on each and every issue, West is now OK with President Trump. But refusing to take yes for an answer ever is at the core of what it means to be a leftier-than-thou voter-as-atomistic consumer.

And once my dear brother moved into his endorsement, his strong endorsement of the neoliberal disaster that Sister Hillary represents, there was no way that I could stay with Bernie Sanders any longer, had to break with the two-party system. The duopoly has to come to an end. I was hoping we could bring the neoliberal era to a close, because a year ago, populist, Bernie Sanders; neofascist with Trump, or neoliberalism limps on with Hillary Clinton. Right now the Democratic Party still run by big corporations, big lobbyists and so forth, from AIPAC to a host of other lobbyists of big money, and it looks like they want to hold on for dear life. And it’s a sad thing to see, because the country is having a nervous breakdown. And you just hope that there can be enough people with compassion and courage to hold onto justice, keep the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Edward Said and Dorothy Day alive.

So much nonsense here. There’s the invocation of MLK to justify tactics the opposite of the ones that made King a successful activist. There’s a vast overestimation of the stakes of the primary fight between Clinton and Sanders. There’s the not-a-dime’s-worth-of-difference assumption being made while comparing a moderate liberal to a “neofascist.” But, as always, what I particularly enjoy about this is West pretending that he’s just now decided to break with the “two-party duopoly,” when in fact he did exactly the same thing in 2000 — breaking after the primaries (even though in 2000 there was even less at stake ideologically,) supporting Ralph Nader using speeches nearly identical to those he used to support Bill Bradley. He’s left the Democratic Party more often than Adam Bellow.

It goes without saying that West has nothing to say about environmental policy, the Supreme Court, the tens of millions of people who would lose health insurance, or any of the other potentially disastrous material consequences of a Trump victory. He concludes with this succession of words next to each other:

And so, this idea that somehow we’ve got to opt for a neoliberal disaster as the only option vis-à-vis the neofascist catastrophe, as a blues man, I appreciate you playing that blues, said I can deal with catastrophe, not by panicking and being driven by fear, but I can look the catastrophe in the face and still tell the truth and still go down swinging with a smile and, most importantly, love, Coltrane’s love—and for me, Jesus’s love—at the center of how we proceed.

It must be said that it’s rather easier to not be driven by fear of a Trump presidency when you’re a very wealthy person with a well-compensated and not-terribly-demanding job. Trying to dignify this nonsense — which isn’t even coherent enough to rise to heighten-the-contradictions — by invoking Coltrane, the blues, and Jesus Christ really takes the pomposity up to 11, though.

How Could Such A Lazy, Inept Campaign Win? Well…

[ 157 ] July 20, 2016 |


While a minor example, Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech is an illustration of an inept, understaffed campaign run by a lazy con artist:

Plagiarism offers a window into a different aspect of Trump, one that isn’t integral to his appeal. Trump is a phony. And a lazy one at that. He refuses to put in the work, and if he becomes president the consequences are likely to be disastrous and unpredictable.

Just ask his wife who stood up on a nationally broadcast primetime telecast to vouch for his integrity and decency, and turns out to have been set up for humiliation because Trump couldn’t be bothered to build the kind of professional presidential campaign that would equip Melania Trump with a decent speech.

Once upon a time, Donald Trump was a real estate developer. Then he launched an airline, launched some casinos, turns out to have mismanaged his interest rate risk, and ended up losing nearly all of it.

He emerged from bankruptcy insufficiently creditworthy to get the kind of bank loans he would need to keep doing major real estate projects. But one of the quirks of his old failed businesses was his habit of slapping the name TRUMP on everything, so he had a much stronger brand nationally and globally than other objectively more successful New York real estate guys.

So he started licensing the brand hither and yon.

Steaks, wine, water, a fake university — even the food at the Trump Café is bad. Alongside the Trump University scam he had a second scam called the Trump Institute where the lessons were plagiarized. He also runs golf courses and they seem to be a scam too. He opened his first Scottish course amid great fanfare and many broken promises.

This could all be wicked fun, like a Mamet play from back when Mamet was still in possession of some measure of his talent. But there’s nothing funny about Trump’s political success:

But what is going to last beyond Election Day — whether Trump wins or loses — is the conviction, shared by a deep swath of the American population, that all unauthorized immigrants are (potentially dangerous) criminals; that Muslims, no matter where they were born, are not to be trusted; that it is important to declare that the lives of police officers matter but that to declare that the lives of the African-Americans those officers stop matter is an unacceptably radical and potentially terroristic act.

Those attitudes were on full and ugly display on night one of the convention. They were at the heart of the message of the first night of the Republican National Convention: “Make America Safe Again.” If Donald Trump wins in November, those principles will be enshrined in policy. But whether he wins or loses, they have been established as acceptable things to say in political discourse, and everyday life, to an extent that was not the case when he launched his campaign a year ago.

The Upshot has Hillary Clinton with a 76% chance to win, Wang between 65-80%, 538 62%. I would guess this range underestimates Clinton’s chances, because the models can’t account for Trump’s unusually unprofessional campaign. But, as Paul had said more than once, even something like a 10%-20% chance of a catastrophe is still pretty terrifying.

Today in Republican Minority Outreach

[ 141 ] July 19, 2016 |


Paul may disparage the quality of RNC’s speaker list, but to be Scrupulously Fair earlier today they were able to attract Lou Holtz, a coach with a 3-10 lifetime NFL record who enjoyed a considerable measure of success coaching in the minor leagues as recently as 20 years ago, and has maintained what might in the formal sense be termed employment as an ESPN hot-taker. This turned out to be a perfect choice for the party of Trump:

Lou Holtz, the legendary retired coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, has a lot of feelings about immigrants.

Speaking at a luncheon the Republican National Coalition for Life hosted during the RNC to honor Phyllis Schlafly, Holtz said the high number of immigrants coming to the U.S. constitutes an “invasion.” And he said new immigrants need to assimilate better. Holtz added that his grandparents learned English after immigrating to the U.S. from Ukraine, and insisted his family learn it as well. New immigrants to this country, he continued, need to learn and speak English and “become us.”

“I don’t want to become you,” he continued. “I don’t want to speak your language, I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!”

The crowd laughed and applauded.

As Chait observes:

Speaking for myself, I personally don’t want to celebrate Holtz’s holidays, and I definitely don’t want to cheer for his football team. As for speaking his language, I’ve watched him on ESPN and it’s not clear he even has one…

But the thing about America is that different people can come here, observe different holidays, and enjoy different pastimes, and it doesn’t stop you from doing it the way you want. Immigrants can’t force Lou Holtz to watch soccer or celebrate Cinco de Mayo, or speak Spanish, or even to speak English.

…maybe he doesn’t want any Canadians in the country, but apparently he’ll take our whiskey.

Roger That

[ 121 ] July 19, 2016 |


The big shoe finally drops:

As a chorus of prominent Fox News women have gone public defending Roger Ailes against the wave of sexual-harassment allegations sparked by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit, the network’s biggest star, Megyn Kelly, has been conspicuously silent. Kelly’s refusal to join in Ailes’s orchestrated defense has led to speculation about why.

Now we have the answer. According to two sources briefed on parent company 21st Century Fox’s outside probe of the Fox News executive, led by New York–based law firm Paul, Weiss, Kelly has told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her about ten years ago when she was a young correspondent at Fox. Kelly, according to the sources, has described her harassment by Ailes in detail.

Apparently even at Fox he can’t survive this:

According to two sources, Monday afternoon lawyers for 21st Century Fox gave Ailes a deadline of August 1 to resign or face being fired for cause.

And you thought Alan Colmes was the quintessential Fox News Democrat:

Ailes’s legal team — which now includes Susan Estrich, former campaign manager for Michael Dukakis — has yet to respond to the offer.

And now, the punchline:

Ailes has also received advice on strategy from Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, sources say.

I’m sure their counsel will be the utmost in tact and reason. But still, he could use a bigger team — I’m thinking Bob Packwood and Herman Cain are probably available.

Melania Trump Is Plagiarizing Michelle Obama, Chris Christie Is Plagiarizing 73% of the Undergrads Caught Plagiarizing

[ 71 ] July 19, 2016 |


If you’ve taught at the college level, this will be very familiar:

But time spent fetching McDonalds for the Trump campaign does something to a man. This morning, Matt Lauer asked him of Melania Trump’s clearly plagiarized speech, “You’re a former prosecutor, could you make the case for plagiarism?”

Here is what he said: “Nah. Not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech.”

I concede the point: except for the parts that were plagiarized, the speech was not plagiarized! [UPDATE: I saw Paul beat me to this below.]

But, hey, keep in mind that if there was anything to like about Christie you’d have to have some sympathy for him:

“Black Thursday,” one of Gov. Chris Christie’s least favorite local newspaper columnists called it, under a headline that declared it his “worst day ever.” At the least, it was the New Jersey governor’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

On Thursday morning, one of his closest confidants pleaded guilty to a felony charge of abusing power at the agency that Mr. Christie tapped him to lead. By that afternoon, federal prosecutors had charged a former cabinet official in connection with the same case, which spun out of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal that has dogged Mr. Christie for nearly three years.

Then he did not get the job he had been publicly pining for, and on which he had pinned his hopes of political resuscitation. Donald J. Trump, who is expected to become the Republican nominee for president next week, picked someone else as his running mate, despite an endorsement that dragged Mr. Christie’s poll numbers to record lows at home and alienated him from moderate Republicans he once called friends.

But, hey, he can hold out hope that another few months of being Donald Trump’s abject lickspittle might allow him to become the John Mitchell of Trump’s probably-not-going-to-happen administration!

…Ben Carson is more original:

Trump campaign surrogate Ben Carson on Tuesday dismissed evidence that elements of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention were plagiarized from Michelle Obama, suggesting that if plagiarism did occur, it was a sign of shared values.

“If Melania’s speech is similar to Michelle Obama’s speech, that should make us all very happy because we should be saying, whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we share the same values,” he told reporters after addressing a Florida GOP delegation breakfast at a hotel here 20 minutes outside of Cleveland, where the RNC is taking place.

“If we happen to share values, we should celebrate that, not try to make it into a controversy,” he added.

…The chances that these plagiarized passages shared values represented original thought on the part of Melania Trump’s speechwriters are less than one in a trillion.

If You Must Write Prose and Poems, The Words You Use Should Be Your Own

[ 142 ] July 19, 2016 |

Scott Baio

Scott Baio night at the RNC had a fitting punchline:

The first night of the Republican National Convention ended dominated by one bizarre question: Was Melania Trump’s convention speech plagiarized from a Michelle Obama convention speech from 2008?

Trump delivered several lines on Monday night that sound almost identical to some from Obama’s 2008 convention address. Now, these are not banal lines that you might expect in any speech given by a political spouse. They’re lines of actual substance and style, which is why people are calling this plagiarism — not a coincidence.

Obviously, this isn’t the biggest deal in the world. Melania Trump is not a major figure in the GOP, and plagiarism doesn’t have the same connotation in political speeches that it does in academia or journalism. (Among other things at most it’s plagiarism once removed, because nobody expects candidates to write or research their speeches.) But it does seem obvious that a competent campaign wouldn’t have let this happen.

“Mr. Trump’s proposal to exclude all Muslims was made at a hockey rink, not David Duke’s office, so it wasn’t racist.”

[ 47 ] July 18, 2016 |
An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

Joseph Rago has a particularly strong entry in the eternally ridiculous “Paul Ryan, international man of substance” genre. Much of it is just the typical praise heaped on his awful, half-assed policy proposals:

“A Better Way” even includes a smart and cohesive health-care component to promote choice and competition. After promising for six years to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and then agreeing about absolutely nothing, Republicans for the first time can plausibly say they have a real alternative as a party.

In fact, Ryan’s most recent health care proposal isn’t any kind of real plan but a sketch of talking points, and to what extent it has content implementing it would be utterly disastrous. But it is true that the Republican Party has a cohesive offer as a party to those that were uninsured before the enactment of the ACA and those who would be uninsured had it not been enacted. That offer is “nothing.”

But this is just standard-issue Ryan fluffing. It takes a special kind of hack to do this:

As Mr. Ryan and “A Better Way” recognize, the truth is that the people who pay the highest marginal tax rates aren’t the Donald Trumps of the world. Workers of modest wages who climb the income ladder often lose 80 or 90 cents on every additional dollar they earn as cash and other in-kind benefits phase out.

Mr. Ryan & Co. are applying their principles to solve such modern problems, not to relive the 1980s or appease “the donor class.” Notably, “A Better Way” was first rolled out at a drug rehab center in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., not a country club.

“A Better Way” is a proposal to massively redistribute wealth upward, financing massive upper-class tax cuts in part by slashing federal aid to the poor. Paul Ryan, policy wonk, attempts to hide these effects through his typical expedient of not providing the relevant numbers in sufficient detail. But because he didn’t introduce it at a country club, his plan to cut spending and pass huge upper-class tax cuts is really an anti-poverty program! Why can’t the Wall Street Journal respect the death of parody?

The Abject Uselessness of Theater Critic Punditry

[ 37 ] July 17, 2016 |

As always, it is 100% undiluted tautology:

To me, the unmatched champion if the genre will always be Jacob Weisberg’s iTunes analysis, arguing that George W. Bush’s mainstream musical tastes were the kind of rugged, authentic tastes you’d like to have a beer with and Hillary Clinton’s mainstream musical tastes were calculating and inauthentic and phony. If the lists of music had been precisely reversed he would have written exactly the same column with the artist/song names changed.

Everything Is Now Illuminated

[ 87 ] July 16, 2016 |


Jonathan Safran Foer’s thinly disguised love emails to Natalie Portman are everything that could have been expected from the auteur of Extremely Banal And Incredibly Pretentious. I think I still prefer the emails of Natalie Portman, Jonathan Safran Foer — and Neal Pollack, though.

Trump is So Bad He Might Make People Do Horrible Things, Like Pointing Out That Trump is Bad

[ 78 ] July 16, 2016 |


Weighing in on the greatest breach of civility in American politics since Ted Kennedy accurately described Robert Bork’s publicly stated views, Fred Hiatt accuses Ruth Bader Ginsburg of Trump Derangement Syndrome:

Now that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken herself to the woodshed, it’s worth asking what her brief bout of Trump Derangement Syndrome says about our system’s ability to withstand four years of a Trump presidency.

Short answer: It is not a good omen.

As the idea of a President Trump has evolved from laughable to unlikely to oh-my-god-this-might-actually-happen, a debate has raged in Washington.

The debate is not over the man’s fitness for office — few people privately will make the case that Donald Trump is qualified or temperamentally suitable to be commander in chief — but over how much damage he might do.

Some say that Trump could be more disruptive than any previous leader, including propelling the nation toward fascism.


At such a moment, laws could not save you; only people could. Would members of Congress, career civil servants and others stand up to Trump and for the rule of law — and could they oppose him while remaining true to principle and not descending to his level?

On the first question, the evidence from Trump’s party is not encouraging. Republicans who months ago were clear about the danger that he represents have abjectly fallen into line, albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm. If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) cannot disavow a candidate he has accused of racism, why would we think he would be firmer when that espouser of racism lived in the White House?

The second question — could Trump’s opponents stay true to their own values? — is where the Ginsburg episode is discouraging. Like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), with his playground taunts during primary season, Ginsburg let Trump drive her to behavior she must on some level have known was wrong, tactically as well as ethically.

The derangement is understandable. Trump is corrected by fact-checkers but just restates his fictions more loudly. He insults war heroes and pays no apparent price with veterans. Lies, conspiratorial insinuations, name-calling and behavior that would knock most candidates out of contention — concealing his tax returns, for instance — do not appear to harm him.

So were Ginsburg’s comments “deranged” because they were substantively wrong? No, according to Hiatt, they were very mild given the scope of the threat Trump poses to the country. Are they wrong because Trump is owed deference? No, in fact the terrifying possibility is that Trump will be normalized and his threat to the constitutional order effectively unopposed. So the key problem with Ginsburg’s comments is that Trump is bringing out the worst in people, including…people being driven to mildly pointing out the unique threat he poses to American constitutionalism and the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

If you can make heads or tails of this argument, please let me know, because I sure can’t.

The Party Left Cornel West, A Perpetual Cycle

[ 107 ] July 15, 2016 |

Of Course:

Let’s leave aside the nonsense about the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party being “neoliberal,” or the idea that having the first liberal Democratic median vote on the Supreme Court in nearly 50 years, protecting the ACA, protecting the Clean Power Plan, enforcing civil rights and voting rights laws, etc. etc. etc. would represent a “disaster.” Let’s take West’s inane descriptions at face value. Your reaction a contest between a “neoliberal” and a “neofasicst” is “not a dime’s worth of difference, let’s go ahead and work to elect the neofascist”? OK.

By the way, lest you be tempted to think that this is about Bernie, in 2000 West made exactly the same seamless transition from Bradley supporter to Nader supporter, although Bradley is not any kind of socialist (and indeed there wasn’t a nickel’s worth of difference between Bradley and Gore on policy substance.) As with late-period Nader, West’s quadrennial rejection of the Democratic Party is rooted much more in his belief that he does not have the personal influence within the party he believes he deserves than any policy disagreements. If Biden or O’Malley had been the primary challenger to Clinton I guarantee West would have done through exactly the same dance.

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