Conquest and Ruin

The election was a necessity. We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

Abraham Lincoln, 11-10-1864, two days after his re-election

This week’s featured post is “The Election: Worry or Don’t Worry?“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s threat to the election

At 8:30 Thursday morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its 2nd quarter GDP report, showing the economy contracting at a record pace. Sixteen minutes later, Trump tweeted:

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

Coincidence? Of course not. Again and again, Trump has shown that he would rather have us talking about some outrageous thing he said than about his failures in the real world.

And notice, of course, that Trump presents no plan for making things better. No plan for controlling the virus so that in-person voting will be safer, no safeguards to make mail-in voting more secure. No suggestion of when or how people could “properly, securely, and safely vote”. The tweet is just pure disruption: undermine faith in what is going to happen, without offering any viable alternative.

Republicans in Congress tried to stay clear of this authoritarian overreach, but for the most part they didn’t condemn it either. “I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” Lindsey Graham said. And Mitch McConnell commented:

Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.

To me, their message to Trump sounded more like “If you want to disrupt the election, leave me out of it” than “Don’t you dare.” I would have liked an elected Republican to react more like Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi:

I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate. … President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.

and the yuge GDP drop

OK, back to the GDP. The BEA report began:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020

That 32.9% number was all over the media coverage of the report, but it’s a crazy way to look at it. Nothing real fell by 32.9% in the 2nd quarter. NPR explains:

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

To bring this idea home, imagine that you buy a $20,000 car today. So today you are spending at an annual rate of $7.3 million. But nothing in your box of receipts will ever add up to $7.3 million, because you’re not going to buy a $20,000 car every day for a year.

All the same, though, what really happened is bad enough: In the 2nd quarter the economy was 9.5% smaller than it was the year before. In the whole history of quarterly GDP reports, there has never been one this bad. What this proves is that we’re not having the “V-shaped recovery” that Trump has been predicting. People are still hurting, and jobs are hard to find. When Republicans in Congress went along with Democrats on the CARES Act in March, most of them were imagining that we’d be over the hump by now and well on our way back to normal.

Well, we’re not. And Republicans have no idea what to do about it.

The White House’s strategy in the negotiations has shifted multiple times in the past few weeks. Democrats passed a $3 trillion package in May that included an extension of unemployment benefits, new stimulus checks, aid for states and localities, and various other programs. The White House expressed opposition to that bill but did not begin negotiations with Democrats until recently. It also took the White House much longer than expected to broker a unified Republican proposal with the Senate GOP after blowback on several of the White House’s ideas.

One special crisis: The federal eviction ban has lapsed, and estimates say Americans owe $21.5 billion in back rent. “In July alone, 21% of renters paid no rent, according to research firm Apartment List.” Expect a wave of evictions, followed by an increase in homelessness. It’s got to be much harder to protect yourself against Covid-19 if you’re homeless, so this will directly affect the spread of the virus.

Trump and McConnell have been acting like they have all the time they want to figure this out. They don’t. Bad stuff is already happening, and more is going to happen every day they delay.

Renters are just the first domino. If they can’t pay, then landlords won’t be able to pay their mortgages. And then banks will be insolvent, and we’ll be in a credit crunch.

One odd wrinkle in the politics of this is that it’s not clear who McConnell speaks for. Lindsey Graham has claimed that “Half the Republicans are going to vote no on any Phase 4 package.” And Ron Johnson says: “I don’t want to see any new authorization of money.”

On the surface this looks weird, because the economic disaster these Republicans are courting is going to hurt Trump’s re-election campaign.

What’s going on here is that senators who aren’t running this year are looking down the road, and already assuming a Trump loss in the fall. After the George W. Bush administration ended in disaster, Republicans quickly disavowed Bush and claimed that he was never really a conservative. The Tea Party movement of 2009 took aim at all the Republicans who went along with Bush on the $700 billion TARP bail-out bill in October of 2008.

Senators like Johnson and Ben Sasse are foreseeing a similar rebranding trick after Trump is gone. And they sense that Republicans who vote for a new stimulus now will be vulnerable once Biden is president and deficits become anathema again.

Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute makes a good point about statistics: The bad 2nd-quarter numbers set the stage for 3rd-quarter numbers that will sound good, even if they’re not.

Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate that the June GDP is over five percentage points larger than the average in April, May, and June. So even if the economy does not grow at all in July, August and September, the third quarter is already set to outperform the second by a wide margin.

When a trillion dollars is going out the door, Trump just can’t resist wetting his beak a little. His proposed plan includes money to remodel the FBI building near the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The original plan had the FBI headquarters moving to cheaper quarters in the suburbs, but then the D.C. site might be available for some competing hotel. Trump really doesn’t want that to happen.

His plan also includes a bigger tax break for business restaurant spending — another boost for Trump properties.

and the virus

The death rate continues to rise. The current  7-day moving average is 1,226 deaths a day.

The news continues to be bad for anyone hoping schools will reopen safely.

Central Junior High in Greenfield, Indiana couldn’t get through its first day without an incident.

Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus. Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days.

A New York Times analysis found that in many districts in the Sun Belt, at least 10 people infected with the coronavirus would be expected to arrive at a school of about 500 students and staff members during the first week if it reopened today.

A major outbreak happened at a Georgia YMCA camp.

A CDC report released Friday reveals that hundreds of campers at a north Georgia YMCA camp were infected with coronavirus in just days before the camp was shut down. … According to the report, of the 597 residents who attended the camp, 344 were tested and 260 tested positive for the virus. The camp was only open for four days before being shut down because of the virus, and officials followed all recommended safety protocols. …

The CDC said that what happened at High Harbor shows that earlier thinking that children might not be as susceptible to COVID-19 is wrong. According to the report, the age group with the most positive coronavirus tests was 6 – 10 years old.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain died Thursday of complications from Covid-19. For a brief time in the 2012 cycle, as the slice of the Republican Party that would eventually become the Trump personality cult struggled against Mitt Romney, Cain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

With the virus being so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to be confident in any contact-tracing. But Cain went to Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, where (like just about everybody else) he didn’t wear a mask. He tested positive on June 29. (I haven’t been able to determine whether that was when the test was given or the result reported.) He was hospitalized on July 1, and died July 30.

Trump began his July 30 briefing by blaming Cain’s death on “the China virus”. As usual, he takes no responsibility.

Here’s the ad Trump should run:


and John Lewis’ funeral

The funeral was held Thursday.

The presidential eulogies — delivered by every living president but the one who couldn’t be bothered to show up — were not to be missed: Barack Obama (text, video), Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush. Bush was never known for his eloquence, or for his camaraderie with the civil rights movement, but his speech embodied a basic decency that has not been seen in the White House since the current president arrived.

and you also might be interested in …

The federal storm troopers left Portland, and the situation calmed down almost immediately. It’s almost like the feds never intended to preserve peace and order.

One of the demonstrators described the evolution of the protests like this:

We came out here in t-shirts and with hula-hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us. So we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us. So we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head. So we started wearing helmets. And now they call us terrorists. Who’s escalating this? It’s not us.

The retail bankruptcies continue: Lord and Taylor, Men’s Wearhouse.

Fascinating tweet-storm in which an ER doctor talks about a surgery patient who was refusing a Covid-19 test, and so couldn’t be operated on. It’s a story of the kind of compassionate interaction we all wish we could receive or were capable of giving others. The doctor listened, reassured, provided factual context, and got the patient’s consent.

In a Fox News interview on July 19, Trump told Chris Wallace:

We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan.

Two weeks was up yesterday, and guess what? Nothing.

Trump usually expects nobody to be paying attention after two weeks, so “in two weeks” usually means “never”. (Remember the news conference where Melania was going to produce all her citizenship documentation, proving that “She came in totally legally.”? During the 2016 campaign he said that would happen “in a few weeks”. It still hasn’t.) But the Washington Post kept track this time, and published an article about all the other times Trump has promised a health-care plan.

In June 2019, Trump said in an interview with ABC News that he would announce a “phenomenal” new health-care plan “in about two months, maybe less.”

Two months later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president was preparing to introduce an elaborate plan to redesign the nation’s health-care system in a speech the following month. “We’re working every single day here,” Conway said last August. “I’ve already been in meetings this morning on the president’s health-care plan. It’s pretty impressive.”

No speech or plan came.

and let’s close with some great video-editing

Nike … well, they’re a big corporation, and they’ve got some problems. But credit where it’s due: If you want to make the case that people are people and sport is sport, you can’t do a lot better than this video. I wonder how much tape they had to watch to find images that fit together this well.

The Election: Worry or Don’t Worry?

Biden’s lead in the polls has Democrats searching for what could possibly go wrong. But some worries should be taken less seriously than others.

Just about every Democrat I know wants to punish him/herself for being overconfident in 2016. Some of us have practical regrets, and wish we’d done more to put Hillary over the top, while others less rationally feel like we jinxed her by saying too loudly that she was going to win. But whatever we did or didn’t do then, we’re now determined to make ourselves suffer by refusing to accept any good news about Joe Biden’s chances. No matter what the polls say, something is going to go horribly wrong.

For what it’s worth, I think we’re going to win this. Not that there’s nothing to worry about, but some of our worries are less serious than others. Let’s assess them one by one.

Worry #1. The polls are wrong.

Biden’s average margin in national polls is somewhere in the 8-9% range, and has been there since mid-June. More importantly, he has solid leads in the swing states he needs to win: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. If he fails in one of those states, polls also give him a good shot at flipping Florida, Arizona, or North Carolina. And even Republican strongholds like Texas and Georgia are not completely out of reach.

But Democrats remember how confident we felt in 2016, and look for reasons to doubt the polls. Republicans, on the other hand, live in constant denial of reality, and doubt the polls because they don’t want them to be true. Poll-skeptics make two related arguments.

  • The polls were wrong in 2016, so why should we trust them now?
  • There is a “hidden” Trump voter that the polls either can’t count or don’t want to count.

Neither really holds water, as long as you remember that polls are snapshots of public opinion at a moment in time, and not predictions of what people will think or do months from now.

The first thing to understand is that the final polls in 2016 were not far off from the vote totals, and to the extent they were, the more likely explanation is that Comey’s reopening of the Clinton email investigation gave Trump late momentum. The polls probably weren’t wrong at the moment they were taken; but a small shift in public opinion at the last minute put Trump over the top.

Nationally, the final 2016 RCP polling average had Clinton up by 3.3%. Her actual margin in the national popular vote was 2.1%. In Pennsylvania and Michigan the polls were off by a bit more — but still not that much. And in both cases, Trump had been gaining in the final week. The only real surprise was Wisconsin, where Clinton led by 6.5% in the final polls and lost by 0.7%.

But in 2018, the reverse happened: The final general congressional ballot polls had the Democrats up by 7.3%, and their margin in the vote totals was larger: 8.4%.

So if there were “hidden Trump voters” in 2016, were their “hidden Democrats” in 2018? Or is there always a small shift in the final days and hours of a campaign?

For what my opinion is worth, I expect the 2020 last-minute shift to be in Biden’s favor. Late in a campaign, a certain number of voters are just sick of all the noise. This year in particular, those voters will be sick of four years of noise; the thought that the loud, obnoxious Trump Era could be over will just be irresistible.

Assessment: Don’t worry about this. Things could change before Election Day, but Biden really is ahead right now.

Worry #2. Trump will stage a remarkable comeback.

In the Trump Era, when every day brings a a few week’s worth of news, three months is a very long time. A month ago, who was predicting that Portland would be invaded by DHS secret police? So all kinds of things can happen before Election Day, and you can expect Trump to push all the buttons and turn all the knobs as he tries to change the public’s opinion of him.

However, nothing he’s trying right now is working at all, or is likely to work if he just keeps at it and pushes harder. Unleashing his goons on Portland was supposed to produce a wave of support for the “law-and-order President” (who is strangely indifferent when people in his administration break the law). But in the latest Ipsos poll, 52% of Americans say the federal response to protests made things worse, with only 30% saying it made them better.

The not-all-that-veiled racism of his “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” tweet doesn’t seem to be going over all that well either. Suburbs aren’t what they were in the 1950s. Black people already live there (though still not in proportionate numbers), so they aren’t as easy to demonize. And a suburb anywhere near high-tech industries (like Bedford, Massachusetts, where I live) is going to include lots of residents of East Asian or South Asian ancestry. If you’re looking for the lily-white experience, you have to go to ex-urbs or rural small towns.

A second factor: His ability to change tactics is limited by his inability to admit mistakes or take responsibility for bad outcomes. So he has to keep doubling down on points that the public already knows are false. Like: the virus really is spreading, it’s not just that we’re testing more. That stopped fooling anyone other than Trump diehards weeks ago, but he can’t stop saying it.

And it’s not just him. The Trumpists who picture a comeback have to engage in such flights of fancy that reading their scenarios makes me more confident, not less. For example, Grady Means published an op-ed Wednesday in The Hill: “Buy the Dip: Bet on Trump“. In Means’ fantasy world, Trump has done a great job and had a great strategy going into this year, but after Covid-19 got rolling “the president has been a complete failure at playing his winning hand.”

The mainstream media and social networks stepped up their withering and relentless Trump-attacks. Statistically meaningless (increased testing and obvious selection bias) COVID-19 “cases” data were weaponized into a strategy of continued lockdowns and sustained school closures.

That’s Trump’s problem — not that America on his watch has objectively screwed up its pandemic response worse than any other rich country, or that people are genuinely hurting economically with no relief in sight. No, it’s that the media has made something out of nothing, and convinced the public to shut down businesses and schools when the virus isn’t really out of control at all. As soon as Americans realize the virus is already beaten, learn to ignore the hundreds of thousands of bodies piling up in the corner, and recognize what a great job Trump has done on the pandemic and everything else, he’ll surge again.

I just can’t picture that plan succeeding.

If Trump is going to stage a comeback, it’s going to have to be through an October surprise: either foreign help (like he got from Russia in 2016 and tried to extort from Ukraine this time around) or some headline-making indictments from the Barr/Durham investigation of the investigators. In either case, whatever anti-Biden “scandal” Trump manages to puff up will probably have little substance, and the public will have been well warned.

Assessment: Worry a little. In particular, worry enough to keep doing whatever you can to ensure a Biden victory. (If we overshoot and wind up with a landslide, that might teach Republicans to give up not just on Trump, but on Trumpist fascism in general — no Tucker Carlson or Tom Cotton in 2024.) But if anxiety about a Trump comeback is causing you to loose sleep or plunge into depression, feel free to put it out of your mind.

3. Trump might lose the election, but refuse to leave office.

It’s important to keep two things in mind:

  • The power of the president functions almost entirely through other people.
  • The White House is a symbolic place, but has no legal or institutional significance.

So while it’s very easy to imagine Trump barricading himself in the Oval Office on January 20 and tweeting endlessly about voter fraud and how he’s still president, if the people who make up the government stop taking his orders, he’s not president any more. Removing him from the White House would become a problem for the Secret Service, aided by mental health professionals.

The transition-of-power process defined by the Constitution and implemented in various state and federal laws goes like this:

  • On November 3, an election is held — or rather 51 separate elections are held in the states and the District of Columbia. This date could be changed, but only by Congress. The Constitution says: “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors”. Votes are counted by local officials, until at some point a state official verifies the names of the electors who will represent that state in the Electoral College.
  • On December 14 (the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December), the electors cast their votes. Like Election Day, this date was set by Congress and can only be changed by Congress. (The same sentence in the Constitution continues: “The Congress may determine … the Day on which [the Electors] shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”) The electors meet in their own states, vote, and send the vote totals to Congress.
  • On January 6, a joint session of Congress meets and the electoral votes are officially counted. (This is the new Congress, with the new representatives and senators elected in November. The new terms start on January 3.) Whatever disputes there might be — rival slates of electors and so on — Congress has the authority to resolve them. The new president will be who the new Congress says it is.
  • On January 20, the new president is inaugurated, swearing an oath specified in the Constitution. There are lots of traditions around the inauguration — it happens just outside the Capitol, the Chief Justice administers the oath, the oath is sworn on a Bible or whatever book the new president holds sacred — but none of that is required.

Here’s something I have great faith in: If the joint session of Congress on January 6 recognizes that Joe Biden has received the majority of electoral votes, he will become president at noon on January 20 and the government will obey his orders. Where Donald Trump is at the time, and whatever he is claiming or tweeting, will be of no consequence.

If Trump’s tweets bring a bunch of right-wing militiamen into the streets with their AR-15s, they can cause a lot of bloodshed, but they can’t keep Trump in office. They are no match for the Army, whose Commander-in-Chief will be Joe Biden.

So if Trump wants to stay on as president, he has to screw the process up sooner; by January 6, it’s all in the bag, and probably it’s all in the bag by December 14. Even stretching out the process with legal proceedings won’t help him: The Constitution specifies that his term ends on January 20. If at that time there is no new president or vice president to take over, the job devolves to the Speaker of the House, who I believe will be Nancy Pelosi.

Assessment: Worry about the ways that Trump might screw with the electoral process (which we’ll get to), but not that he will just refuse to leave the White House.

4. Republican state legislators will overrule the voters and give their state’s electoral votes to Trump.

Awarding a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins that state’s popular vote is so traditional that most people think it must be in the Constitution, but it isn’t. The sum total of the Constitution‘s instructions are:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress

So, at least in theory, a legislature could ignore the popular vote and appoint anybody it wants to the Electoral College. However, states have codified their current processes in law, and a new law would have to be passed to circumvent that process. The swing states people are most worried about — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — have been gerrymandered to lock in Republican majorities in the legislatures, but they have Democratic governors who would veto a law to hand Trump the state’s electoral votes. Republicans don’t have enough votes to override a veto.

Assuming Trump wins at least one of those states legitimately, though — or manages to suppress enough Democratic votes to get a majority — Biden could still win if he carries Florida, Arizona, or North Carolina. North Carolina, like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, has a Democratic governor and enough Democrats in the legislature to sustain a veto. So Trump needs to win the popular vote there, too.

That leaves Florida and Arizona, where Republicans have unified control of state government. (You could also talk about Texas and Georgia, but if Biden wins the popular vote in either of those states, he’ll have such a landslide that no amount of backroom finagling could undo it.) Would they dare reverse the decision of their state’s voters? This would be a truly outrageous thing to do — even some people who vote for Trump aren’t going to like the idea that their votes don’t count — and the people who do it would risk being villainized for life. So I can only imagine it happening under two conditions:

  • They’re sure it will work. This scheme only makes sense if it gives Trump a second term, where he can reward the people who put him in office. So they need to be sure their law will pass and their electoral votes will make Trump president again.
  • Something taints the vote-count that says Biden won. You could imagine a legislature legitimately awarding its electoral votes by special law, if it were clear that the popular vote was fraudulent in some way. (Imagine a surprise win by the previously unknown owner of the company that makes vote-counting machines. Wouldn’t you want your legislature to stop that?) Republicans would need to be able to argue that they were following the real will of the voters, which had been undone by fraud.

That, I think, is the point of Trump’s bogus assertions that voting-by-mail-is-unsafe and the polls are skewed. He’s setting up the argument Republican legislators will need if they want to throw the election his way.

There are a bunch of scenarios where Biden is safe from this:

  • He wins the popular vote in enough states that no single state flipping to Trump would reverse the outcome.
  • He wins three of these four states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
  • He wins Florida and/or Arizona by enough votes that the fraud-made-the-difference argument loses credibility.

There’s also a wild card: If Democrats control both houses of the new Congress, they might decide to not to count the switched electoral votes. It would be an illegitimate, unconstitutional move, but hardball begets hardball. Trump might try to get the Supreme Court to rule against Congress, but it’s not clear they have jurisdiction. And if Congress simply refuses to declare a winner, Pelosi becomes president. (All this would do horrible damage to our political system, but if Republicans don’t care about that, why should Democrats?)

Assessment: Worry moderately. Probably we won’t wind up in a scenario where this is a possibility, and even if we did, it would only take a handful of Republicans with consciences to save democracy. Who knows? There might actually be enough of them.

4. A majority of Americans try to vote Trump out, but between voter suppression and the Electoral College, we fail.

During the impeachment process, Republicans liked to orate on the awesome standards necessary to reverse the choice of the American voters. But of course, the voters did not choose Trump — the Electoral College did. Trump got only 46% of the vote: 66 million votes to Hillary Clinton’s 69 million. His approval has never gone much above that 46% — largely because he has governed as if the other 54% doesn’t count — and is now hovering somewhere around 41%. Quite possibly, there has never been a moment when a majority of the American people supported Trump.

It’s easy to imagine the same thing happening again: Biden piling up millions more votes than Trump in California and New York, while losing by a few thousand in Florida and Wisconsin. With the usual Republican margin in Texas shrinking, the effect could be even more extreme in 2020 than it was in 2016: Biden might get as many as 5 million more votes than Trump, and still not become president.

What’s more, Republican voter suppression efforts are in high gear, and have already shown some success: By a wide margin, the voters of Florida voted in 2018 to re-enfranchise felons who have served their time — nearly 1.4 million Floridians. But yielding to the will of the people is not what the Republican Party is about.

The GOP-controlled Legislature, however, sought to limit the effects of the amendment by passing a law that conditioned the right to vote on payment of all fees, fines and restitution that were part of the sentence in each felon’s case. The state, however, had no central listing of this information, and the Legislature created no system to help felons ascertain how much, if anything, they owed. Even the state ultimately agreed that it would take six years to create such a system. … The estimated 85,000 who are already registered could be prosecuted if they vote and it turns out they have not paid the fees or fines owed.

The Supreme Court, which has consistently favored Republican voter-suppression efforts sincre John Roberts’ evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, thought this was a fine law.

Covid-19 has created new opportunities for mischief, as we saw in Wisconsin in April. The Republican-through-gerrymandering legislature insisted on few polling places and long lines, and resisted the Democratic governor’s attempt to institute vote-by-mail, or even to extend the deadline for submitting an absentee ballot to allow for the fact that many ballots were not mailed out on time. Research indicates that the brave Wisconsinites who came out to vote anyway could not fully avoid spreading the virus.

Nationally, Republicans are doubling down on this yield-or-die strategy for the fall. They are fighting vote-by-mail in states all over the country, trying to force people to brave the virus-spreading crowds if they want to vote. Worse, Trump is intentionally slowing down the mail, which could well result in a Wisconsin-like situation for the whole country: People can’t receive their mail-in ballots and return them soon enough to count. Some of the more obvious suppression tactics include not counting Michigan ballots that arrive late, even if they were postmarked before Election Day (“inherent variations in mail delivery schedules could result in one person having the ballot counted and another not, even if they send them back on the same day”), and trying to stop Pennsylvania from providing drop-off boxes for people who are afraid their mail-in ballots won’t arrive in time. These attempts come wrapped in rhetoric about “election security”, but they’re transparent attempts to keep legal voters from successfully submitting their votes.

I think there’s reason to hope that these efforts will boomerang, and that the more Trump tries to keep Americans from voting, the more determined we will be. In Wisconsin, the people who did risk their lives to vote were pretty pissed off by the time they got to the booth. The Republican Supreme Court candidate this tactic was supposed to save got defeated anyway.

All over the country, people have to be asking themselves: “Why don’t Republicans want me to vote?” Trump is giving Democrats an issue, and we need to run with it. He wants to paint liberals as people who hate America, but this part of Barack Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis sounds pretty fundamental to what America is supposed to mean:

Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance. By adding polling places and expanding early voting and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are somebody who’s working in a factory or you’re a single mom, who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico. They’re Americans. By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering, so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around. And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

Who hates America now, Mr. Trump? Not LeBron James, who together with other NBA stars is donating $100K to pay the fees of Florida felons, so that they can vote. We all need to be looking for ways that we can help our fellow Americans vote, and for ways to call out the anti-American politicians who are trying to stop them.

The ultimate voter suppression would be for Trump to deploy his storm troopers Portland-style in swing-state Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia and Milwaukee, harassing people in front of polling places. We can hope that mayors and governors will not stand for that, and that the police will obey their local orders rather than side with the feds. It could get ugly, and again, could boomerang against Trump. Hopefully his advisors will convince him that it will.

Assessment: Trump can put his thumb on the scale, but only up to a point. It shouldn’t have to be this hard to get rid of him, but it is. I think we’re up to the challenge. So worry enough to take action, but not so much that you paralyze yourself.

5. Trump will lose and leave office, but he’ll trash the country on his way out the door.

Of course he will. This isn’t even something to worry about, just start getting ready for it. It’s going to happen.

Look for a flurry of pardons for all his henchmen (and probably himself, leading to an interesting legal battle), abrupt closures of American bases in any country that hasn’t treated him as well as he thinks he deserves, and at least one more big favor to pay off his debt to Vladimir Putin. (Putin would be crazy not to invade Estonia or something as soon as Trump loses.) And what’s more important: Taiwan’s independence, or a new Trump Tower in Shanghai?

Biden is going to have a historic mess to clean up when he takes office. But I believe he will take office.

The Monday Morning Teaser

We get the worst quarterly GDP report ever, Trump continues to trail Biden in the polls, and suddenly he wants to delay the election. Or move it up. Or something. Whenever the election is, it won’t be legitimate, because he’ll be defeated by fraud — the only conceivable way Trump could ever lose, or admit losing.

Anyway, this gives me a current event to hang the featured post on, even though it’s one I’ve been thinking about for a while. When the polls first turned decisively towards Biden, Democrats — who are absolutely terrified of feeling confident — kept telling each other “It’s too early to pay attention to polls.” It’s still a little early, but it’s getting later, and Trump’s attempts to find an issue to capitalize on keep falling flat. The storm troopers in Portland didn’t do it. Demonizing China or Fauci isn’t doing it. Insisting that people worried about a plague send their kids back to school didn’t do it. What’s going to do it?

But instead of expressions of Democratic confidence, I’m seeing articles about all the bad things that could still happen: The polls could just be totally wrong, maybe Trump will refuse to leave the White House, and stuff like that. And while those things are definitely worth thinking about — I don’t expect everything to go smoothly and Trump to suddenly become a gracious loser — it’s more like we’re trying to justify our own inner panic than that we’re checking democracy’s doors and windows.

So I decided to do a doors-and-windows check myself, to see where the bad things might get in. (If we’re going to worry, let’s at least worry about the right things.) The result is “The Election: Worry or Don’t Worry?” That should be out maybe 10 or 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has that horrible GDP report to cover, along with Senate Republicans’ failure to come to grips with the continuing economic distress being felt around the country. The time-lag between Covid-19 cases and deaths is continuing to play out; now cases are topping out, but deaths are increasing, reflecting the upward slope of the case numbers three weeks ago. Herman Cain died, causing me to reflect on how hard-hearted this whole crisis is making me. (Maybe I was never really as compassionate a person as I thought I was.) Basketball has restarted more-or-less successfully, while baseball is still wondering if it will have to pull the plug. And I’ll close with that wonderful bit of photo-editing Nike has put together. That should be out maybe noon or 1.

Waiting For the Light

I am sleeping on a time bomb,
And I am waiting for the light to come.

– Vertical Horizon “We Are

This week’s featured post is “The Cancel Culture Debate“.

This week everybody was talking about Portland’s resistance to Trump’s secret police

It’s hard to be sure until we get actual polls on the subject, but I don’t think Trump’s invasion of Portland is turning into the vote-getting stunt he’d hoped for. The plan was to create riveting scenes of heroic police clashing with “violent anarchists” from Black Lives Matter, crush the protests and restore “law and order” to a city whose Democratic officials were too weak-willed to handle these America-haters.

Instead Trump got the Wall of Moms, Dads with leaf-blowers, a wall of veterans, and another one of nurses. Portland grandmothers have adopted the hashtag #Grantifa and joined the protests. The goons from Homeland Security have man-handled all comers.

Paramilitary thugs dragging away terrified women who resemble somebody’s Mom from across the street — maybe that’s not the best optics for a federal police action. (Many of the Moms are annoyingly white, which wasn’t in the script at all.) So Trump has been driven to his ultimate defense against reality: declaring it all to be Fake News.

The “protesters” are actually anarchists who hate our Country. The line of innocent “mothers” were a scam that Lamestream refuses to acknowledge, just like they don’t report the violence of these demonstrations!

Reporters on the ground — those from The Oregonian/OregonLive, for example — tell a different story.

Thousands of Portland moms have come together over the past week to join nightly demonstrations in downtown.

They stand arm-in-arm at protests, placing themselves between federal officers and younger protesters in an act of protection. As the number of moms turning out in Portland grew with each protest, mom protest groups began to spring up across the nation in places like New York City, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

I’m a little skeptical of the “thousands” claim, but I have friends here in the suburbs who are searching their closets for yellow t-shirts (the Wall of Moms’ uniform of choice) in case Boston is next on Trump’s list. They’re real moms, and I don’t recall any of them ever mentioning their hatred of America.

The Guardian’s take:

If Trump’s intent was to calm things down, he has failed. But if, as some suspect, the president wanted to ratchet up confrontation for political gain, then it is not clear that it has been a success either.

“It’s a power play by Trump. He thinks he’s going to get his base all riled up by pitting the forces of law and order against the anarchists,” said Josh O’Brien, who travelled from Seattle to join the protests. “But he’s fucked it up like he fucks everything up. Look who’s here with us. Grandmothers. Doctors. Because like most Americans they don’t think people should be abducted from the streets by the president’s secret police.”

Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tried to push the violent-anarchists narrative by tweeting a picture with this comment:

Here is a shield and a couple of gas masks from a rioter arrested in Portland. Not a sign with a slogan that someone expressing their first amendment rights might carry, but preparations for violence. Peaceful protester? I don’t think so.

Cooch clearly didn’t think this out (or is trying to appeal to people who don’t think clearly): You carry a shield and gas mask when you expect to be a victim of violence, not a perpetrator.

Former Celebrity Apprentice staffer turned stand-up comedian Noel Casler paints a different picture:

If you’re dressed up like a soldier and you’re tear-gassing a mom wearing a bicycle helmet to protect her from your batons, you are not an American soldier or a Patriot. You are the kind of person American soldiers killed to protect us from. Stop it now @DHS_Wolf.

If you wonder what the Portland attack is for, Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn gives a hint: It’s for scary campaign messages aimed at voters far away from Portland. He tweeted video of a violent clash between police and demonstrators with the message “This would be @JoeBiden’s America. It’s a very scary place.”

As many other tweeters pointed out, the video is quite literally Donald Trump’s America. His three years of presidential race-baiting exacerbated the racial tensions that exploded in the George Floyd protests, and the brutality of his secret police increased the violence in Portland.

And if you don’t find all that disturbing enough here’s Thomas Friedman’s take:

when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.”

and what might happen in other cities

Over the weekend, protests broke out in several other cities, some of which had been quiet for weeks.

It’s hard to know whether provoking those protests was part of Trump’s plan or not. Certainly, he has talked about sending his DHS police to other cities. More than 200 federal agents have already been in Kansas City long enough for Attorney General Barr to lie about their accomplishments.

Barr said Wednesday that Operation Legend had netted 200 arrests in two weeks as the Department of Justice announced plans to deploy additional federal law enforcement agents in Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So far, federal authorities have announced one arrest — a 20-year-old KCMO man wanted for warrants and allegedly spotted in a stolen vehicle, where two stolen handguns were found — though it has not been connected to a homicide or shooting investigation.

Similar numbers of agents are supposed to be heading to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, and possibly Philadelphia and Baltimore, but what they’ll do there is not at all clear. What problem are the agents trying to solve, and what will they do about that problem that local police aren’t already doing?

Operation Legend is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy shot and killed in his bed in Kansas City on June 29. How exactly federal agents would prevent similar crimes has never been spelled out.

Of all those cities, Chicago is the one that I know best, so I’ll focus there.

It’s worth remembering that policing was a serious issue in the 2019 Chicago mayoral campaign. So if the federal government changes the way Chicago is policed, or stops Chicago from making its own changes, that raises a democracy issue: Do the people of Chicago get to decide how their city will be policed, or is that up to Trump?

Channel 5 asked all the candidates for mayor the same seven questions; the second one was about policing and the consent decree the city had recently negotiated with the State of Illinois to reform the Chicago Police Department. Lori Lightfoot answered:

I am the only candidate in this race that has a broad depth of experience in dealing with issues related to police excessive force and abuse, accountability and reform. My perspective on these issues stems from my roles as a federal prosecutor and the head of the former Office of Professional Standards, in which I made countless recommendations to terminate police officers who failed to properly perform their duties, including in police-involved shootings. More recently, I led the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), whose report served as the underpinnings for both the Obama DOJ report and recommendations on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the consent decree. There would be no consent decree without the PATF. I also served as the president of Chicago Police Board, where I held officers accountable for misconduct. Before resigning from the police board to run for mayor, I significantly increased the number of officers that were terminated for serious misconduct or received lengthy suspensions.

In the first round of the multi-candidate race, Lightfoot was the leader with 17.5% of the vote. In the runoff between the top two candidates, she got 73.7%. I think it’s fair to say that the voters of Chicago want a policing approach like Lightfoot’s, and not a tear-gassing baton-swinging approach like Trump’s goons have implemented in Portland.

It’s not clear how Lightfoot’s approach will affect the frequency of violent crime in Chicago over the long term. But doesn’t the city have a right to find out?

Really American describes itself by “We believe it is our duty as patriotic Americans to stand up against fascism in all of its forms.” They’ve been making some really biting anti-Trump videos. Like this one.

A number of voices are expressing disappointment that the militia-Right or libertarian-Right, after decades of warning us about the threat of government tyranny, has so totally failed to notice the rise of real authoritarianism, and at times has even applauded it. But if you’ve been paying attention, you shouldn’t be surprised. Anti-government rhetoric has long been applied only in very particular ways: If the government is using its power to counter either white supremacy or the dominance of the super-rich, that’s tyranny. But if it’s using its power to keep the lower orders in their places, that’s OK.

Jonathan Korman has altered the Gadsden flag to capture what it really means these days.

and the next stimulus package

Back in May, Democrats foresaw that the virus would not be gone by summer, and that the economy would not have a V-shaped recovery. So they passed the next stimulus bill, the $3 trillion HEROES Act. Mitch McConnell reacted by denouncing it as a “liberal wish list”. He predicted that if more stimulus was needed “the President and Senate Republicans are going to be in the same place. We’ll let you know when we think the time is right to begin to move again.”

But as so often happens in this post-policy era of the Republican Party, the time has come and the President and Senate Republicans are not in the same place. That’s the problem when a party focuses on marketing to the exclusion of policy. When they do realize they need to do something, it’s hard to figure out specifically what, because up until that moment they have only been thinking about how to spin an issue, not how to resolve it. The White House in particular has been completely focused on the spin of the V-shaped recovery. (On June 5, Trump responded to a positive jobs report by saying that the economy is “not on a V-shaped recovery, it’s a rocket ship.”)

But there is no V-shaped recovery. Like so many Trump policies, reopening the country produced only a short-term effect. He got his good jobs report in June, but the subsequent surge in Covid-19 cases has states shutting down again, and layoffs are rising. So we’re back to the same problem as in March and April: People need to eat and pay the rent, but there are few jobs, and no jobs at all that many people with Covid risk factors can do safely.

The extra $600 per week of unemployment insurance, which was part of the previous Covid-response package, the CARES Act, expires Friday. In practice, that means that many people have already gotten their last increased unemployment check. This extra money has been key, not just to keeping those 20 million households afloat, but the entire economy. For example, August rent or mortgage payments might be hard to scrape together for many families — a problem that will cascade to real estate companies and banks.

McConnell is still predicting a new bill, but now says it will take “weeks“, and began his statement with “hopefully”. He wants a $1 trillion bill, with maybe $200 a week in additional unemployment, rather than $600.

and the rising Covid-19 death rate

After not having a thousand-death day since June 4, the US had four this week, not counting the 993 on Saturday. By WorldoMeter’s count, which runs a little higher than some others, the US had its 150,000th death today. Other counts are lower, but in all versions of the stats we’ll probably pass 150,000 this week.

If you squint at the graph just right, it looks like the US Covid-19 case count might have peaked this week. I wouldn’t count on that, but that’s the appearance at the moment.

Trump’s cancellation of the Republican Convention’s events in Jacksonville led to a series of sarcastic ” … but it’s safe to send your kids to school” social media posts. In addition to the convention,

  • Barron Trump’s school won’t be fully opening, and won’t decide whether to offer any in-person classes at all until August 10, but you should be planning to send your kids to school five days a week.
  • Florida Senator Rick Scott’s grandchildren will be “focused on distance learning right now” to “make sure they’re safe”, but schools should be open for your kids, especially if you’re poor and looking to cash in on “a subsidized meal”.

and AOC

I had been resisting paying attention the the AOC/Ted Yoho flap, because it looked like one of those somebody-said-a-bad-word kerfuffles that get people upset but never go anywhere.

But it eventually got my attention, because AOC gave a truly epic speech on the floor of the House. The provocation was not just Yoho arguing with her rudely on the steps of the House, and then walking away saying “fucking bitch” (as overheard by a reporter). But when his remark came out in the press, Yoho took to the floor of the House to offer one of those I’m-didn’t-really-do-anything-but apologies. His was particularly self-righteous, concluding that “I cannot apologize for … loving my God”, as if the Ancient of Days Himself had whispered “fucking bitch” into Yoho’s ear.

AOC’s response was masterful. She avoided all the usual ways such complaints are type-cast and pushed aside: It wasn’t that Yoho said a bad word or that her feelings were hurt. She spoke not with the attitude of someone pleading helplessly for justice, but as a person wielding moral authority. The question is not what Yoho’s judgment has done to her, but what hers does to him.

Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too. … What I am here to say is that this harm that Mr. Yoho levied, tried to levy against me, was not just an incident directed at me, but when you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters.

He — in using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable.

… What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.

Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country. It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol. It happens when individuals who hold the highest offices in this land admit, admit to hurting women, and using this language against all of us.

More and more I’m coming to believe that AOC is a once-in-a-generation political talent. Whether you agree with her positions on particular issues or not, her abilities are on a par with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Whether she’ll achieve what they did is still up in the air at this point in her life. But she has the talent.

and you also might be interested in …

It can’t be complete week without a Trump corruption story. Tuesday, the NYT reported:

The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, according to three people with knowledge of the episode.

NPR adds:

Lewis Lukens, the embassy’s former second-in-command, confirmed in a text to NPR that Johnson told him about the president’s request. “I advised him that doing so would violate federal ethics rules and be generally inappropriate,” Lukens wrote.

But Johnson apparently went ahead and raised the matter with David Mundell, then secretary of state for Scotland, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

The State Department inspector general — presumably the one Trump fired in May — investigated and wrote a report, which has not been released.

538 has a fascinating breakdown of why Florida was a bellwether in 2008, 2012, and 2016, but resisted the blue wave in 2018. Some factors that helped Republicans in 2018 won’t be there this year. Meanwhile, CNN observes that Trump hasn’t led in a Florida poll since March. The RCP polling average has Biden up in Florida by 7.8%.

The best explanation of defund-the-police I’ve seen so far:

The baseball season launched (finally) on Thursday, with the Yankees beating the Nationals 4-1 in a stadium with no fans. An interesting compromise: Both teams knelt on the field prior to the national anthem, but no one knelt during the anthem.

It’s a 60-game season. If anybody is going to hit .400 in our lifetimes, this is the year to do it. And then we can all argue about whether it should count.

The Miami Marlins have postponed their home opener because 11 players and two coaches have tested positive for coronavirus. That this has happened already raises doubts about the plans for the whole season.

and let’s close with something realistic

People are having fun with photo-realism software.

Dutch photographer and digital artist Bas Uterwijk shines a light on what iconic figures from history might have looked like in real life. By using various digital manipulation tools, he is able to create photorealistic portraits of famous artists, leaders, mummies, philosophical thinkers, and even the models of paintings.

I’m not sure exactly what he bases this on, but this is his Jesus of Nazareth:

Doesn’t he look like he would forgive your sins?

And somebody else has used Roman statues to produce photorealistic images of the Roman emperors.

The Cancel Culture Debate

Expressing views out of step with the common sense of your era has always been risky. But now, as cultural power shifts and common sense changes, it’s harder to know what’s safe.

It has long been a staple of conservative thought that good people should have nothing to do with bad people. The very first verse in the Book of Psalms says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” And in 2 Corinthians 6:14 the New Testament echoes: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

This conservative idealization of purity is currently playing out in the treatment of the Never-Trump Republicans, who are seen as heretics rather than wayward brethren. Justin Amash had to leave the Republican Party. Mitt Romney was dis-invited from CPAC. Even Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz is under fire for her occasional criticisms of the Great Leader.

But those incidents are dogs biting men. What really has drawn public attention is the man-bites-dog phenomenon of liberals casting people out. Liberals define themselves as open-minded and tolerant, and yet now they are often the ones who get people expelled from social media or dis-invited from speaking engagements or even fired from their jobs.

Such incidents have led to much bad-faith criticism from conservatives, and the popularization of the label “cancel culture”. But it has also resulted in introspection among liberals, most recently and publicly in “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” signed by around 150 intellectual heavyweights and published in Harper’s.

The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

This intolerant-climate rhetoric has predictably played into the both-sides-do-it narrative that mainstream media uses to establish its objectivity. But what exactly is the “it” that both sides do? The Harper’s letter is vague and sloppy about this, and the coverage the letter generated has often talked about “free speech”, when that is not the issue at all.

So let’s start at the beginning and try to get this right: What exactly is “cancellation”, and why might people of good faith want to do it?

When cancellation is merited. Judy Mikovits has a theory: She thinks Covid-19 was created in the United States by public health officials led by Dr. Anthony Fauci. They shipped it to Wuhan where it was either released or escaped, starting the current pandemic. Mikovits also holds Fauci personally responsible for destroying her career in science; she says he distributed millions of dollars to cover up the conspiracy that persecuted her. She has also made several other bizarre claims about Covid-19 in the video Plandemic, which went viral in right-wing circles until it was removed from most social media platforms: Flu vaccines have distributed coronavirus, which is activated when you wear a mask. Bill Gates was part of the plan to spread Covid-19, so that he can profit off the eventual vaccine. And so on.

Actual evidence for these claims is virtually non-existent.

So what should happen to Mikovits and her theories? In my ideal world, not much. She would be free to run around making whatever claims she believes, but no one would take her seriously, either. Groups would not invite her to speak. People who stumbled across her video online would say “Really?” and do some checking before deciding not to pass it on to anyone else. If Facebook, Twitter, et al. discovered “Plandemic” gaining popularity on their platforms, they would remove it, exactly as they did in the real world, but maybe sooner. And of course, being a distributor of wild misinformation about science would make Mikovits unemployable by legitimate scientific institutions.

In short, I think Mikovits deserves to be canceled — not imprisoned, not fined, not punished in any discernible way, just removed from the national conversation — not by government edict, but by the shared standards and good judgment of society in general.

Instead, Sinclair Broadcasting, the Trumpist network of local TV stations, decided to give her a platform. [1] Eric Bolling (who you may remember from his time as a Fox News host, until he left under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations) has a TV show America This Week, which Sinclair distributes to its stations. This week’s episode includes interviews with Mikovits and with her lawyer Larry Klayman.

For balance, Bolling also interviewed a Fox News medical contributor who describes Mikovits’ claims about Covid and Fauci as “unlikely”. But for much of the episode, the chyron asks the question: “DID DR. FAUCI CREATE COVID-19?” Many of Bolling’s viewers — especially the ones who might be cooking dinner or paying bills and only looking up at the TV occasionally — will probably come away thinking that “yes” is a plausible opinion, one that reasonable people should consider.

Is Sinclair’s decision to air Mikovits’ views a defense of free speech? I don’t think so. I believe it’s irresponsible and does a disservice to viewers who trust their local news stations.

Legal vs. acceptable. I bring Mikovits up not because I want to spend significant time debunking her, but for the sake of her example: Widespread rhetoric about “cancel culture” professes to be about “free speech” or censorship, but it really isn’t. [2] We’re not discussing what speech should be legal. We’re discussing what speech should be acceptable in various forums. And the answer to that question should not be “whatever anyone wants to say”. Failing to cancel someone can be irresponsible management of an information forum. [3]

The acceptability question is not absolute; it is forum-dependent. Suppose I agree with Mikovits and say so. What should happen depends on where I say it or try to say it.

  • If I’m talking to my friends at a bar (assuming it’s ever safe to go back to bars), they should scoff at me, but the conversation should move on with no further consequence.
  • If I submit an article to a general-interest newspaper or magazine, they should reject it; but maybe I could get away with raising the question of whether the virus was created in a lab, and suggesting that maybe it was.
  • If I’m writing for Scientific American or some other popular magazine with scientific respectability, I should only be able to make claims that I can support with significant scientific evidence. The created-in-a-lab theory probably couldn’t pass muster.
  • A scientific journal like Nature should require not just evidence, but proof. Otherwise, my opinion should not be heard.

If I am employed by Scientific American or a scientific journal, and I develop a reputation as a promoter of the Fauci-created-Covid conspiracy theory, they should fire me, because my reputation would conflict with the reputation the magazine wants to maintain.

None of this would constitute a violation of my free speech. I can say whatever I want, but other people are also free to react to what I say. No one has to offer me a platform or lend me their respectability.

Zack Beauchamp makes this point in more detail.

Contrary to the original letter signers’ claims, what’s actually happening here is more subtle than a war between free speech’s defenders and its opponents. It is, as the University of Illinois’s Nicholas Grossman writes, an argument over “drawing the lines of socially acceptable expression and determining appropriate responses to transgressing those norms.” That’s not a conflict over the principles of a free society but the rules that govern its operation in practice.

Before we called it “canceling”. If there ever was a moment in American history when all speech was acceptable and any idea could be advocated in any forum, it hasn’t been in my lifetime. I grew up during the Cold War, an era when it went without saying that no major newspaper or magazine would have an openly Communist columnist. [4] Slightly before my time, the Hollywood blacklist banned movie people suspected of Communist sympathies. One famous victim was the black singer/actor Paul Robeson, who you may have heard sing “Ol’ Man River“.

The range of opinions acceptable on major-network TV may have expanded somewhat in the 21st century, but is still quite narrow. Bill Maher ran into the limits shortly after 9-11. At the time, he hosted ABC’s Politically Incorrect, a comic-but-serious discussion of the news similar to his current Real Time show on HBO. But Maher made the mistake of responding to President Bush’s characterization of the 9-11 hijackers as cowards by saying something fairly obvious:

We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.

Soon, local ABC affiliates were refusing to air Maher’s show and sponsors were dropping it. It was not renewed for another season, after having been on ABC for five years.

In 2003, the Dixie Chicks (now just “The Chicks”) faced retribution after singer Natalie Maines told a London audience that the band opposed the upcoming invasion of Iraq: “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” In response

The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations. On May 6, Colorado radio station KKCS suspended two DJs for playing their music.

So “cancel culture” may be a relatively recent term, but the phenomenon is not at all new.

Moving the boundaries. If cancel culture isn’t new, why is it suddenly getting so much attention? It’s hard to argue with the assertion that something feels different now. But what and why?

For one thing, more and more people are unsure about where the boundaries are, and so they withhold opinions they might previously have expressed. In a poll by Cato Institute — not an unbiased source, but faking a poll is not their style — 62% of Americans agree with the statement: “The political climate these days prevents me from saying things I believe, because others might find them offensive.” That’s up slightly from 58% in 2017.

The question is why. I think Beauchamp has this right: It’s not that the bounds of acceptable speech are getting narrower, it’s that the range is shifting. Activists on the left are succeeding in moving the range leftward, and some would like to shift it further.

That may sound partisan and even nefarious in the abstract, but there is justification for it: The range of acceptable speech has never been natural or God-given; it arises out of a society’s power dynamics. [5] We are emerging from a centuries-long era when power belonged exclusively to upper-class straight white Christian men. So the bounds we are used to — ones that seem “normal” to us — unfairly favor upper-class straight white Christian men.

Social justice advocates think the bands of acceptable opinion and arguments shouldn’t be narrowed, precisely, but rather pushed to the left — shifted to include formerly excluded voices from oppressed communities and to sideline voices that seek to continue their exclusion. Their critics think the traditional bands of debate are, broadly speaking, correct, and that we’d all be worse off if the social justice advocates succeed in moving speech norms in their direction.

Consider, for example, the Me-Too movement. Abusive men like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby used to be confident that their female victims would not be listened to or taken seriously, but now at least some of those voices are being heard. And if uncertainty about the new boundaries prevents men “from saying things I believe, because others might find them offensive”, that isn’t always a bad thing. I don’t doubt for a minute that Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida was saying what he believes when he called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes a “fucking bitch”. But if he restrains himself in the future (because he doesn’t want to be eviscerated again on the floor of the House), I don’t see the loss.

As a professional-class straight white brought-up-Christian man myself, I have often been corrected for running afoul of the new boundaries — by  commenters on this blog, for example. I have been called out for using the verb “bitch” for a certain style of complaining (done by men and women alike), or for referring to someone as “transgendered” (as if it were something that happened to them) rather than “transgender” (something they are). Occasionally someone observes that my attempts to write about privilege are themselves tainted by a privileged viewpoint. Of course it stings to be criticized for something I did without conscious malice, and that no one would have mentioned ten or twenty years ago. But I also recognize that a world where people like me get criticized for giving offense is better than one where the people we offend are not heard.

Who decides? A glance at the list of signers of the Harper’s letter reveals that they aren’t all upper-class straight white Christian men: Margaret Atwood, Atul Gawande, Michelle Goldberg, Khaled Khalifa, Dahlia Lithwick, John McWhorter, Gloria Steinem, Fahreed Zakaria, and many others. So why is this their issue?

For some, the motivation is obvious: Salman Rushdie had to spend years in hiding because his writings offended a powerful Muslim cleric. J. K. Rowling has faced a huge backlash to her opinion that transwomen are not “real” women. But not all the signers have some clear personal ax to grind. What’s up with them?

Let’s go back to Beauchamp:

What’s new in the modern era, according to [York University philosopher Regina] Rini, is that the mass public has gained an unprecedented ability to influence and reshape those rules [defining acceptable speech] — a process that used to be the province of the elite. … [Intellectual elites] believe that social media, and Twitter in particular, is starting to exercise a kind of veto over editorial judgment — running roughshod over editors and forcing journalists to be subject to the new activist rules of political discourse. The objection here is not just that activist speech norms are bad, but that those speech norms are being imposed on the intellectual elite by the loudest voices on social media — that a silent majority of conventionally liberal journalists are being silenced by radicals.

Here’s what the Harper’s letter says:

We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

A response letter from a collection of generally less famous intellectuals points out that the examples vaguely alluded to in the paragraph above are both less unjust and less representative than they appear.

The content of the letter also does not deal with the problem of power: who has it and who does not. Harper’s is a prestigious institution, backed by money and influence. Harper’s has decided to bestow its platform not to marginalized people but to people who already have large followings and plenty of opportunities to make their views heard. Ironically, these influential people then use that platform to complain that they’re being silenced. … Their words reflect a stubbornness to let go of the elitism that still pervades the media industry, an unwillingness to dismantle systems that keep people like them in and the rest of us out.

For years, the people at the top of the intellectual pyramid have been insulated from the disapproval of the lower orders. [6] Now they are less insulated. Some problems may result from that trend, but it’s not obvious that the trend itself is a problem.

What is common sense? In David Graeber’s The Democracy Project, he defined the success of revolutions not by the the new governments they establish, but by “planetwide transformations of political common sense”. [7] We seem to be in such a revolutionary period now. Just a few months ago, for example, defunding or abolishing the police were ideas outside the bounds of acceptable discussion in most popular forums. Now the idea is openly discussed in The New York Times and other establishment forums. On the other side of the spectrum, the President is floating the possibility that he might refuse to accept an election that he loses.

No one can really say what “political common sense” means right now; it’s in flux. Similarly, “acceptable speech” is in flux. That is not the fault of anybody in particular. It’s just an uncomfortable feature of this historical moment.

In this situation, mistakes are going to be made. We’re all going to say things that we’ll regret after standards settle down. And some of our responses to other people’s transgressions will turn out to be inappropriate — sometimes too harsh, sometimes too lenient. It will be so obvious in hindsight.

What can we say? Recognizing that our current sight suffers fog-of-war-type limitations, how much can we say? Here are a few incomplete conclusions I’ve come to.

Disagreement is not censorship. Back on May 26, when Twitter attached a fact-check link to one of Trump’s lying tweets, the President tweeted back:

Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!

Trump was so stifled that a week or so later (June 5) he tweeted 200 times. But this complaint has a long pedigree in conservative circles. When she was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Sarah Palin claimed that her rights had been violated by media accounts labeling her paling-round-with-terrorists rhetoric as “negative campaigning”.

If (the media) convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.

The same observation holds for liberals, moderates, or anybody else: If you say something and somebody disagrees with you, your rights have not been violated. If they label what you say as racist or sexist or some other ist-word, that’s their opinion and they have as much right to it as you have to your opinion.

Reserve your sympathy for people suffering real consequences. Someone surprised to be criticized for what he says or does should never be lumped together with others who have lost something real, like a job. If your house is getting vandalized and your inbox is full of death threats, that’s different that just “somebody called me a homophobe”. Hannah Giorgis made the point like this:

Facing widespread criticism on Twitter, undergoing an internal workplace review, or having one’s book panned does not, in fact, erode one’s constitutional rights or endanger a liberal society.

Michelle Goldberg objected:

This sentence brought me up short; one of these things is not like the others. Anyone venturing ideas in public should be prepared to endure negative reviews and pushback on social media. Internal workplace reviews are something else. If people fear for their livelihoods for relatively minor ideological transgressions, it may not violate the Constitution — the workplace is not the state — but it does create a climate of self-censorship and grudging conformity.

However, a review is not a firing. And that leads to the next point.

Responsibility belongs to the decision-makers. If you say something innocent that unfairly provokes (in the words of the Harper’s letter) “calls for swift and severe retribution” on Twitter, and then your boss fires you, the problem is with your boss, not with Twitter or the people who complained. Storms of public opinion are going to be a regular feature of public life, and institutions are going to have to learn how to weather them. People in positions of responsibility are going to need to have the courage of their convictions.

Universities are a good example: Students can ask for whatever they want; the university doesn’t have to give it to them. If some student group calls for the scalp of a professor who offended them by doing something that is well within the terms of ordinary academic freedom, and the university gives in, that’s on the university. Universities who make a habit of this kind of cowardice should be shunned by the kind of intellectuals they would otherwise try to recruit.

Saying anything substantive requires courage. This much has always and everywhere been true: It’s risky to express opinions that are out of step with the common sense of your time and place. [8] The problem now is that, since common sense itself is in flux, nobody can be sure what opinions are safe, or will continue to be safe when people a few years hence look back with new eyes.

This situation is regrettable. But at the same time, I have limited sympathy for intellectuals who are trying to be inoffensive and failing. The point of intellectual life should be to state your truth. If your truth turns out to be popular and make everybody happy, how fortunate for you. But nobody should go into intellectual life expecting that.

What goes around comes around. Everybody needs to remember that revolutions eat their young. Robespierre died on the same guillotine that he had sent many other people to. The more harsh judgment we build into the system, the more likely we are to be judged harshly when our time comes.

We need to always keep in mind the point of shifting the boundaries of acceptable thought: to bring in new voices, ones that the old distribution of power had shut out. Bringing in those new voices sometimes requires squelching old voices who are telling the new voices to shut up, or intimidating them out of speaking at all. Making new space on the platform may require asking some people to step aside. Creating a safe workplace or discussion space for a wider group of people may require that previously acceptable speech become unacceptable. [9]

But squelching old voices should never become an end in itself, even if they are obnoxious voices.


It would be nice to have a big finish for this post, but for all the reasons explained above, I don’t have one. As I said, someday (in hindsight) how we should have handled this will all be obvious. But right now, it isn’t.

[1] This description is based on the version of the episode that was posted online. After it caused an uproar, Sinclair decided to pull the episode back for re-editing to give it more “context. Presumably, however, its distribution to Sinclair’s stations has only been delayed.

[2] In the current news, I know of only one example of actual censorship: When Michael Cohen was furloughed from prison due to the risk of coronavirus, the Federal Bureau of Prisons conditioned the continuation of his furlough on an agreement not to write a book critical of President Trump. Cohen refused to sign and was sent back to prison, but was soon released by a federal judge. The judge said, “Why would the Bureau of Prisons ask for something like this … unless there was a retaliatory purpose?”

Telling someone: “If you write a book you’ll go to jail” — that’s censorship.

[3] Another good example of a viewpoint deservedly canceled is Q-Anon.

[4] That’s still true today. For all the charges of “socialism” that get flung at pundits and politicians these days, when was the last time you heard somebody advocate public ownership of the means of production? That idea hasn’t gone away; you just don’t hear it.

[5] That’s the 21st-century version of Karl Marx’ dictum: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”

[6] However, even world-famous philosophers have occasionally lost jobs because they were too liberal. In 1940, City College of New York tried to hire Bertrand Russell to teach classes on logic, mathematics, and the metaphysics of science — three areas in which he was among the world’s foremost authorities at the time. That appointment was challenged in court because of his criticism of religion and advocacy of unpopular sexual practices. (Wikipedia lists “sex before marriage, homosexuality, temporary marriages, and the privatization of marriage”.) Ultimately the New York Supreme Court ruled against his appointment, claiming that Russell was morally unfit to teach at CCNY.

[7] The French Revolution is a good example. The government it established was a disaster, but afterwards monarchy became hard to justify.

[8] Even if you were white, being an abolitionist in the Old South could get you horsewhipped.

[9] Sara Robinson pushed back against Cato’s implication that it was political bigotry to be skeptical of hiring Trump supporters.

As an employer, I have a legal obligation to provide my workers with a safe workplace where they can do their jobs free of harassment and bigotry. If I fail, I can be sued, so there’s serious liability attached here.

If I hire a Trump follower, that liability goes straight to 11. How can I convince my female employees that they’ll be safe if I hire someone who thinks it’s fine for a man to grab a woman by the pussy? How do I look my Iranian clients in the eye after I bring in an employee who approved of the Muslim ban? What can I say to reassure my Jewish staffers when I’ve put their futures in the hands of a supervisor who agrees that the Charlottesville mob included “some very fine people”? What do I tell our Mexican-American vendors when they have to deal with someone who’s cool with seizing their nieces and nephews and sticking them in baby cages? … You don’t need to be a bigot to steer clear of these people.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Weeks like this raise a difficult question for anybody trying to summarize the news: Is Trump’s fascism supposed to distract us from his incompetence and corruption, or is it the other way around? Whatever I lead with, I wonder if I’ve taken the bait and missed the more important story.

The most eye-catching thing this week has been Portland’s resistance to the tear-gassing, stick-wielding secret police Trump has sent to crush dissent. The protests continue to grow, as Moms, Dads, veterans, nurses, and even grandmothers flip the script on our would-be strongman: It is the protesters who now look like America, and Trump’s goons who look like the violent America-haters.

But as the number of Americans dead from coronavirus closes in on 150,000 and Trump’s insistence that the schools have to open collides with his lack of any plan for opening them safely, it’s hard to ignore the incompetence theme. All of the countries we usually compare ourselves to are handling this pandemic, and we’re not.

And it’s hard to go a week without a major corruption story. This week we found out that Trump pushed our ambassador to the United Kingdom to try to get the British Open moved to a golf course Trump owns in Scotland. Supposedly there’s an inspector general’s report on this incident, which is conveniently classified.

But instead, the featured post is something more broadly cultural: After raising the subject of “cancel culture” in the weekly summary two weeks ago — and getting a lot of thoughtful objections from my commenters — I’m back with a longer article, which I haven’t titled yet. That should be out around 11 EDT. This week’s summary will address the fascism/incompetence/corruption trifecta, as well as Senate Republicans’ inability to put together a new stimulus package, the rising Covid-19 death rate, and a few other things, like AOC’s epic evisceration of Ted Yoho on the floor of the House. That should be out around 1.

Rising Up

Listen, I don’t mean to be partisan and all,
but I think that unidentifiable federal agents yanking people off the streets
and throwing them into unmarked vans is bad.

Jared Holt, Right Wing Watch

“Our whole reason for lobbying for looser gun laws and amassing huge personal arsenals of weapons these past years was so that we could ensure the security of a free state and protect the people from an oppressive government. And then it actually happened, and the whole rising up against a tyrannical government thing just totally slipped our minds, which is a little embarrassing,” a sheepish NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said.

– “NRA Accidentally Forgets to Rise Up Against Tyrannical Government
The Shovel (a satire site)

This week’s featured post is “Who Are Those Guys?

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s secret police

Unidentifiable federal agents working for no agency in particular have been jumping out of unmarked vans and abducting people off the streets in Portland. I’ve gotten used to a lot of things since Trump became president, but this seems like a big deal to me.

I’m fairly proud of the featured post. It’s way long, but it tells the complete story, from the Pentagon’s reluctance to suppress protesters in DC in early June through the creation of federal law enforcement units that are willing to do just that. And for those of you who worry about Trump refusing to leave office after he loses in November, this is a key component of that scenario: I don’t believe the Army would support a coup, but what about these Little Green Men?

and the virus

Things keep getting worse. Last week it was debatable whether or not we had 70,000 new cases in a single day. This week we did it more than once. Deaths continue to rise, peaking at 963 on Friday. I will be surprised if we don’t break 1,000 deaths in a day this week, something that hasn’t happened since June 4.

One model has us hitting 224K deaths by November 1.

When you sort the world coronavirus data by “deaths per million population” the US is currently #10 at 433. We’ll probably eventually pass most of the European countries ahead of us (France, Sweden, Italy Spain, United Kingdom, Belgium), all of whom have done a much better job controlling the virus recently after initially being overwhelmed by it. But Latin American countries behind us (Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama) are gaining, and Chile is already #9. So even as things get worse for us, we could move down the list.

A big study from South Korea has answered a number of questions about children’s role in the potential spread of Covid-19. Children under 10 are less likely than adults to spread the virus, but they do spread it. And older children may be even more likely to spread the virus than adults.

Both results should make communities think twice about reopening schools. If you’re somewhere with very few cases — Vermont, say — it might make sense to open schools full-time (with some new rules), test frequently, and see what happens. But in a hotspot like Florida or Texas, it’s crazy.

Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway dodged a question about whether 14-year-old Baron Trump will attend classes in the fall. “That’s a personal decision,” she said.

Apparently Trump really wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to “slow the testing down“. As the next stimulus bill is being written in the Senate (the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act back in May, but Mitch McConnell has been sitting on it), the White House is objecting to $25 billion to help the states do more testing, as well as an additional $10 billion for the CDC. Trump isn’t fighting with the Democrats here, he’s fighting with Republican senators.

The two political parties are far apart on a number of contentious issues, such as unemployment insurance, but the conflict between Trump administration officials and Senate Republicans on money for testing and other priorities is creating a major complication even before bipartisan negotiations get under way.

Trump’s attacks on testing — which every public-health expert says is basic to controlling the virus — have been getting more and more demented in recent weeks. A week ago he told a reporter: “When you test, you create cases. So we’ve created cases.” He has refused to acknowledge that the leap in the national case-count (from 20,000 a day in early June to 76,403 on Friday) means that the virus is spreading.

In addition to impeding testing, the administration is also seizing control of the data. The Department the Health and Human services sent a memo to hospitals and acute care facilities on July 10:

As of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead.

NHSN is run by the CDC. The replacement methods go directly to HHS. Various critics have claimed that NHSN needs to be improved, but it’s hard to come up with a motive for moving it to HHS, other than to sideline the “Deep State” civil servants at CDC and allow political appointees at HHS to play games with the data. The NYT:

Public health experts have long expressed concerns that the Trump administration is politicizing science and undermining its health experts, in particular the C.D.C.; four of the agency’s former directors, spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations, said as much in an opinion piece published Tuesday in The Washington Post. The data collection shift reinforced those fears.

MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace observed that it is “quite a coincidence” that Trump is trying to control the data at a moment when the data is publicly demonstrating his failure.

Josh Marshall provides a sobering graph: If you look at the daily new cases of Covid-19 in the 49 states other than New York, the curve flattens at about 20,000 per day from early April to mid-June, and then takes off. Without New York, national case-counts never did start going down.

Hundreds of people rallied at the Ohio statehouse Saturday to protest against mask mandates. Ohio doesn’t even have a statewide mandate, but some counties do.

and the economic consequences of the virus

The extended benefits in the CARES Act (that passed in March) will expire at the end of July, less that two weeks from now. Unless Congress acts, some people will lose benefits completely, while others will lose the extra $600 per week the CARES Act provided.

The House passed the next stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, back in May. But Republicans in the Senate have held on to the fantasy that the virus would go away and the economy would have a V-shaped recovery. By the end of July, they imagined, jobs would be plentiful and that extra $600 would just encourage lazy people to stay unemployed.

Now it’s getting down to the wire, and Mitch McConnell still has a lot to negotiate with his own caucus and the White House before he can start dealing with Nancy Pelosi. Paul Krugman comments:

My sense is that Republicans have a delusional view of their own bargaining position. They don’t seem to realize that they, not the Democrats, will be blamed if millions are plunged into penury because relief is delayed; to the extent that they’re willing to act at all, they still imagine that they can extract concessions like a blanket exemption of businesses from pandemic liability.

Maybe the prospect of catastrophe will concentrate Republican minds, but it seems more likely that we’re heading for weeks if not months of extreme financial distress for millions of Americans, distress that will hobble the economy as a whole. This disaster didn’t need to happen; but you can say the same thing about most of what has gone wrong in this country lately.

and John Lewis

Lewis died Friday at the age of 80. He had announced in December that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. His NYT obituary is a good summary of his long career in the civil rights movement and in Congress.

Testimonials have poured in from all directions. Barack Obama’s ended like this:

It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.

Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.

The most embarrassing testimonial came from Marco Rubio, who posted a picture of himself with Elijah Cummings. I guess old bald black guys all look alike to Marco. The tweet was taken down, but not before Rubio was roundly pilloried.

Truthfully, I’m not sure I could have correctly identified pictures of Lewis and Cummings. But I never met either man, and if I were going to post a photo of myself with one or the other, I’d stop and think about when that photo was taken and what we might have been talking about. Rubio clearly did not, and neither did his staff — which testifies to a certain sloppiness in thought and action.

Follow-up: Apparently Alaska’s Senator Dan Sullivan made the same mistake.

CNN lays out what happens next in Georgia’s 5th congressional district: Lewis had already won renomination, but the Democratic Party can replace his name on the ballot. It has to be done quickly or not at all, so there’s no time for a convention or primary. The state Democratic Party’s executive committee is meeting at noon today to pick a nominee. The district is solidly Democratic, so whomever they pick will probably go to Congress.

As for the remainder of Lewis’ current term, Republican Governor Kemp would have to declare a special election. That may or may not happen in time for Lewis’ replacement to be sworn in before the term ends.

and you also might be interested in …

The  home of a Latina federal judge in Newark was attacked yesterday afternoon. Her 20-year-old son was killed and her husband wounded, but Judge Esther Salas was not hurt. The shooter hasn’t been caught, and no one knows if Salas was the target or if so, why. But I have to wonder if the right-wing diatribes against “liberal judges” will eventually lead to more of this.

Mary Trump telling Rachel Maddow that she has heard Trump use the n-word and anti-semitic slurs got way more attention than I would have given it. It would be more amazing to me if she hadn’t heard him use that kind of language in private settings. I mean, we know he has referred to African nations and Haiti as “shit-hole countries” in front of members of Congress. And we know he has a long history of racism, which he appears to have inherited from his father.

Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson (a man sometimes pitched as the next leader of the Trumpist movement) took a previously unannounced fishing vacation after his top writer, Blake Neff, was caught making racist and sexist social-media posts under a pseudonym. (Apparently he’d been doing it for years.) Neff was the guy who wrote Carlson’s scripts, which Carlson only edited. I have to wonder how much input Neff had into rants like the one where Carlson claimed white supremacy is “not a real problem in America” and “a hoax”.

Carlson’s show, like a lot of Trump’s speeches, specializes in walking the line between deniable racism and undeniable racism. He has become the primary voice of white grievance on television, and white supremacist groups are among his biggest fans. That the guy writing Tucker’s scripts would take his bigotry off the leash anonymously on social media is about as shocking as Trump saying the n-word in private.

After they were exposed, Carlson acknowledged that Neff’s posts were “wrong”. The Bleeding Cool blog then assesses the rest of his statement:

Now for those of you who think Carlson then went on to further criticize Neff, followed by acknowledging that FOX News really wasn’t news and that his show profits from creating and stoking division along racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual orientation lines? Either check your respective prescriptions to make sure you’re taking the right dose or the back of your neck to make sure you’re not an alien pod person. Oh no, the brunt of Carlson’s attempt at “righteous anger” was aimed at this who (wait for it)… would actually take joy in someone who posts racist, sexist, and other offensive messages having to resign from a news program that has heavy, cult-like influence over others. Shocking, right? …

“We should also point out to the ghouls that are beating their chest in triumph at the destruction of a young man that self-righteousness also has its costs,” said Carlson, who clearly sees anyone who has issues with someone who posts racist, sexist, and other offensive messages as being “self-righteous.”

Like a lot of cancel-culture “victims”, Neff hasn’t been “destroyed”. He just lost a job he never should have had in the first place. Now that his name is out there as a white-racist martyr, I’m sure he has a big future on openly racist sites like VDare or American Renaissance.

Trump’s lie that “Biden wants to defund the police” was too much for Fox News’ Chris Wallace to let go by. Wallace in fact caught Trump in a number of lies.

The Trump campaign is a big moneymaker for Donald Trump personally. David Fahrenthold reports:

In just two days, @realdonaldtrump’s campaign pumped $380K into Trump’s private business, in 43 separate payments. Trump Org says this was for a weeklong “donor retreat,” held in early March at Mar-a-Lago. Campaign donations turned into private revenue for POTUS

The Open Secrets web site says that overall $4.1 million has been paid to the Trump Organization by Trump-related political committees, the Republican Party, and the campaigns and PACs of other Republican candidates.

and let’s close with something encouraging

Let’s take a moment to entertain an idea suggested by The Muppets and James Corden. Maybe, even during this pandemic, we really can get by with a little help from our friends.

Who Are Those Guys?

Customs and Border Protection has finally claimed the anonymous federal law enforcement agents who have been abducting people off the streets in Portland. But it still won’t say who they are or exactly what they’re doing.

Often, when the Trump administration is described in totalitarian terms, it’s hyperbole, or at least debatable.

So, for example, describing ICE as a “Gestapo” is hyperbole. They violate civil rights and are out of control in a lot of ways, but comparisons to the Gestapo are overblown. Similarly, there has been debate (yes and no) about whether the detention facilities that hold legal asylum seekers and unauthorized border-crossers qualify as “concentration camps”. (My opinion: Yes, as long as we remember that concentration camps are not always death camps. Concentration camps isolate unpopular and dehumanized groups in harsh conditions outside of public view; death camps target them for extermination. Dachau was a concentration camp when it opened in 1933, but it didn’t become a death camp until much later.)

However, the federal law enforcement agents who have been roaming around Portland this last week are literally “secret police” — no hyperbole, no exaggeration. Their uniforms say POLICE, but do not identify what federal agency they are from or who the individual officers are. They cover their faces, drive unmarked vehicles, and grab people off the street without identifying themselves, their unit, the reason for the arrest, or where they are taking their victims. If right-wing militia groups start putting POLICE patches on their camo uniforms and kidnapping protest leaders, no one will know the difference; neither their appearance nor their behavior will give them away.

So that’s where we are: We’ve crossed one more bridge on the road to fascism, and it’s arguable that we’ve already arrived. Let’s think about how we got here.

Lafayette Square. On June 1, after the peaceful protests of George Floyd’s murder had also spawned looting and property damage in cities across the nation, President Trump called for law enforcement to “dominate the streets“. He urged governors to call in the National Guard, and made the following threat:

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said, referring to himself as “your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”

He said he was already dispatching “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to Washington to stop the violence that has been a feature of the protests here.

While he was speaking, federal law enforcement agents of various stripes attacked peaceful protesters near the White House, pushing them out of Lafayette Square so that Trump could have his infamous hold-up-the-Bible photo op at historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, active-duty troops were being deployed to the DC area. Unnamed sources claimed Trump wanted to deploy 10,000 troops. Fortunately, generals and Pentagon civilians all the way up to Defense Secretary Esper pushed back, arguing that suppressing domestic dissent is not the military’s role. (I’m guessing the 10,000-troop story was leaked by a military person who wanted the plan stopped.) In the end, active-duty troops were never used against protesters and were withdrawn, but not before the incident “badly strained relations between Mr. Trump and the military”.

From Trump’s point of view, though, the week had one bright spot. The regular military might be reluctant to take the field against American protesters, but he did identify a force he could use: a motley assortment of armed federal law enforcement agents temporarily commanded by Attorney General Bill Barr.

Few sights from the nation’s protests in recent days have seemed more dystopian than the appearance of rows of heavily-armed riot police around Washington in drab military-style uniforms with no insignia, identifying emblems or name badges. Many of the apparently federal agents have refused to identify which agency they work for.

In the words of Butch Cassidy: “Who are those guys?”

It turns out that the federal government has something like 132,000 law enforcement officers spread out over dozens of agencies in multiple departments. Yahoo News called the roll:

The show of force outside the White House is a task force operation that includes U.S. Secret Service, National Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Park Police, … Federal Protective Service, … elite SWAT teams from the Border Patrol and sniper-trained units from ICE have also descended upon Washington. TSA’s air marshals arrived too, and three of the agency’s “VIPR teams,” which have previously faced criticism for not coordinating well with local law enforcement. Eight Coast Guard investigators were deputized by the Department of Justice upon arrival in Washington, though it remains unclear how they are being deployed.

Which raises an obvious question: What kind of rules apply to people from one agency deputized by another? The rules of their home agency? Their temporary commander’s? None? There are all kinds of restrictions, both legal and institutional, on what the President can or can’t do with the military inside our borders. But these guys, apparently, not so much. Through the years, whenever Congress increased the budgets of the Bureau of Prisons or ATF or one of the dozens of other armed law enforcement agencies, who realized they were helping build a 132,000-man Praetorian Guard?

As democracy-threatening as this seemed in June, though, comforting speculation held that DC’s special relationship with the federal government made it unique. (That even became an argument for DC statehood.) Surely these little green men could never be deployed in a state over the objection of its governor.

After all, this is America.

The Portland protests. The George Floyd protests have had remarkable longevity, challenging the conventional wisdom that the Powers That Be can always wait these things out. But nothing lasts forever, and by July 1, even Seattle’s famous CHOP autonomous zone had been reclaimed by local authorities.

In Portland, however, the spirit of resistance is still very much alive. Friday marked the 50th day of protest. OregonLive describes the situation like this:

Portland has experienced weeks of daily protests since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police. The largest of them, involving thousands of people chanting and marching for racial justice and police non-violence, have been peaceful.

But almost like clockwork, tensions flare late at night between law enforcement officers stationed at the Justice Center and courthouse and a crowd of 20- and 30-something demonstrators, a small number of whom toss projectiles at police, shine lasers in their eyes or otherwise poke and prod officers to engage.

… Although the Justice Center and federal courthouse are covered with angry graffiti decrying police, evidence of other demonstrations in the city are scarce.

But you get a different sense from local journalist Robert Evans, who has been covering the nightly clashes, which he describes as “as close up to the line as you can get to actual war without live rounds”.

The craziest night so far was July 4, where kids stockpiled thousands of dollars in illegal fireworks. They were in the center of downtown where the bulk of the protests happened around the Justice Center.

It started as drunken party, more or less. At random, cops began shooting into the crowd. Protesters coalesced around the idea of firing commercial-grade fireworks into the Justice Center and Federal Courthouse. You had law enforcement firing rubber bullets, foam bullets, pepper balls and tear gas as crowds circled in around the courthouse firing rockets into the side of the building. That went on for a shocking length of time — there was this running three-hour street battle. I couldn’t tell whose explosions were whose.

Trumpist media and administration spokespeople have been desperate for something to talk about other than Trump’s failure to control the coronavirus pandemic, and so they have seized on “mob rule” as a theme, with Portland as a prime example of a city “under siege”. But OregonLive pushes back against that narrative: “A tour of the town shows otherwise.”

The images that populate national media feeds, however, come almost exclusively from a tiny point of the city: a 12-block area surrounding the Justice Center and federal courthouse. And they occur exclusively during late-night hours in which only a couple hundred or fewer protesters and scores of police officers are out in the city’s coronavirus-hollowed downtown.

Daily life in Portland is greatly restricted by the virus, but is barely affected by the demonstrations. Evans agrees:

One of the things I think people get wrong about this place, though, is that they see the protests and the right-wing coverage and the city is depicted as convulsed and collapsing. It’s just not true. You go three blocks from the center of downtown and life goes on as normal. Where I live, you could go every day and see no real signs of the protests.

Having totally given up on doing anything to combat the virus, though, Trump had to be seen doing something about something. And so he intervened in Portland.

DHS’ little green men. If you get your view of the world through Fox News, you understand that the biggest current threat to the United States and the American way of life is not the virus that has killed nearly 140,000 of us with no end in sight. No, it is the wanton destruction of our historical statues and monuments. Any time I have channel-scanned through the Fox News evening line-up in the last month, that’s what they’ve been talking about.

To combat this scourge, on June 26 President Trump heroically signed the “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence“. If you read past the polemics all the way to the end, you’ll find this authorization:

Upon the request of the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Administrator of General Services, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.

He’s talking about the 132,000 federal law enforcement agents, the Little Green Men. And unlike in a riot or a natural disaster where a governor might ask for the help of the National Guard, here one part of the federal government asks another part to send the Little Green Men. The Secretary of Homeland Security, you might notice, is authorized to ask himself for assistance.

As it happens, we don’t have a Secretary of Homeland Security, and haven’t since Trump forced Kirstjen Nielsen to resign in April, 2019 because she “pushed back on his demands to break the law“. Since then we’ve had acting DHS secretaries, because Trump says “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.” (In fact, Josh Marshall observes that every DHS official who figures in this story is acting: “acting secretary, acting deputy secretary and acting head of CBP. Not one of these men has been confirmed by the Senate to act in this role.” Having avoided confirmation hearings where senators might demand promises or commitments, all three get their authority from and owe their allegiance to no one but Trump.)

So Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf responded to Trump’s executive order by creating the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT) “a special task force to coordinate Departmental law enforcement agency assets in protecting our nation’s historic monuments, memorials, statues, and federal facilities”. The PACT announcement quotes Wolf: “We won’t stand idly by while violent anarchists and rioters seek not only to vandalize and destroy the symbols of our nation, but to disrupt law and order and sow chaos in our communities.” (“Violent anarchist” is a phrase you’ll hear again. It is to the Trump administration what “terrorist” was to the Bush administration: a term stripped of all its original meanings until it is simply an insult, i.e., “someone we don’t like”.)

Notice the subtle shift: We’re not talking about statues of Andrew Jackson any more, as Trump was when he signed the executive order. We’re talking about “federal facilities” like the Mark Hatfield Courthouse in Portland, the courthouse mentioned above. PACT’s mission also extends beyond “protecting” those facilities to the much more nebulous goal of maintaining “law and order” and fighting “chaos in our communities”. But the Hatfield Courthouse is more than just a center of “chaos”, it is also the scene of a heinous crime: graffiti.

Maybe the Trump administration will stand idly by while American coronavirus deaths once again approach a thousand a day, and maybe it will do nothing when Putin puts bounties on the lives of our soldiers in Afghanistan, but graffiti on a federal courthouse is an affront up with which it will not put.

Send in the Little Green Men.

The federal invasion of Portland. Sometime after the Fourth of July — no one seems to know exactly when, because there wasn’t an announcement — unidentified federal law enforcement agents from no particular agency began battling protesters alongside the Portland police. And they did not just support the local officials, they significantly escalated the violence. Here’s Robert Evans again:

Since the feds got involved with police it’s gotten really brutal. I’d argue we’ve seen more police brutality in the last 50 days from Portland Police Department than anywhere else in the country. It’s brutal but it’s also predictable. There are rhythms to the way police work. It’s become an orchestrated dance with both sides.

There are warnings and kicking people out of the demonstration area. But the feds have deliberately defied the rhythms. Last Saturday [July 11], the crowd was 100 or so. It was very chill — nothing going on beyond the now-normal occupation of the Justice Center. And feds came out grabbing people seemingly at random and beating people with sticks. There was the kid who got shot in the head and his skull was fractured. The federal law enforcement violence is unpredictable violence.

The “kid shot in the head” was Donovan LaBella, and we have the shooting on video. The Oregonian summarized in a tweet:

Video shows nothing suggesting that La Bella, 26, who was standing across the street from the federal courthouse holding a speaker over his head, was a threat to anyone.

What appears to be a tear gas canister bounces in front of him. He kicks at it, bends down to toss it underhanded into the street, and lifts up his speaker again. Then he goes down, apparently struck by a sponge grenade or some other “less lethal” projectile that is never supposed to be aimed at someone’s head. (LaBella’s sister says he’s making a “remarkable recovery“, but the photo of his stitched-up forehead looks pretty gruesome.)

Who shot LaBella? Hard to say. Some unmarked federal agent in camo with a mask on, from some unnamed federal law enforcement agency.

How actions like this protect federal facilities is hard to figure. And then the abductions started.

Unmarked vans. NPR reports:

Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least Tuesday. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation about why they are being arrested, and driving off.

To the people being kidnapped arrested, it’s not obvious that their abductors the officers are police at all.

“I see guys in camo,” O’Shea said. “Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, ‘Oh s**t. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.'”

See any identifying marks?

And again the question: Who are these guys? As this widely shared video shows, two agents in camo with no label other than POLICE grab somebody off an empty street and throw him into a van. They are repeatedly asked who they are and what they’re doing, but they do not respond.

For hours no one knew who the masked kidnappers were working for. But eventually, Customs and Border Protection took responsibility for that particular “arrest”. (In an interview, though, Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli identified Federal Protective Services as the lead agency; CBP is assisting them.) Their statement is a series of lies wildly inconsistent with the video, or with numerous accounts of similar abductions.

CBP agents had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.  Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location.  For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning.  The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter. The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country.

In fact, the street is virtually empty. The officers do not identify themselves, and if you can spot any insignia other than POLICE on their uniforms, you’re sharper than I am. I’m also struck by the “suspected of assaults against federal agents OR destruction of federal property”. The “or” suggests that this is a generic explanation rather than the specific reason for this particular arrest. Whoever wrote the statement probably has no more idea why the suspect was arrested than we do.

Robert Evans reports:

I’ve seen them rolling around in the vans and tackling people. My partner has watched them do a few snatch and grabs. The difference is they’re not cops. They go after people like soldiers, where the goal is to be unpredictable.

Acting Secretary Wolf’s justification of the entire operation, which didn’t appear until Thursday, is ridiculous. The phrase “violent anarchists” appears 72 times, along with a list of their “violent” crimes, which mostly consist of tagging the Hatfield Courthouse with graffiti. One “violent anarchist” was caught with a loaded weapon, but there is no report of the weapon being brandished or fired. (Compare to the AR-15 toting conservative protesters at the Michigan State House in May, whom Trump supported by tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”.)

OregonLive responded:

It’s telling that in Wolf’s extensive listing of incidents over the past several weeks, he neglects to mention the most violent act of these protests – a deputy U.S. marshal’s shooting of Donavan La Bella in the face with an impact munition. … That Wolf would fail to even acknowledge such a severe injury exposes how suspect his definition of “violence” is.

(OL appears to just be guessing who the shooter works for; I don’t believe the Marshals have claimed responsibility.) To repeat: “violent anarchist” has no meaning. It’s just an insult; it tags someone as an enemy.

Remember federalism? One hallmark of the Trump Era is that any principles conservatives used to claim — free trade, standing by allies, fiscal responsibility, the importance of character — have been exposed as hollow. One such relic of the age of principled conservatism is federalism: the doctrine that states share sovereignty with the federal government, and are not just subjects of federal rule.

Under federalism, policing is a state responsibility. In this case, it’s important to bear in mind that no local official asked for the federal government’s help in dealing with the protests. Acting Secretary Wolf did not even make a courtesy call to tell Oregon Governor Kate Brown or Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler what he was planning to do. This whole episode began not with an offer of help, but with Trump’s threat: “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.

That’s how this all came about: Trump and/or Wolf came to the conclusion that Portland was not treating protesters harshly enough, so Wolf asked himself to intervene.

Now that they have had a chance to see what DHS is doing, local officials at all levels have asked the federal agents to leave. Governor Brown tweeted:

This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety. The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government. I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.

And Mayor Wheeler acknowledged the government’s right to protect its buildings, but called for it to pull its agents off the streets:

I have no problem with the federal government and federal officers inside their facilities protecting their facilities. That’s what they do. That’s what they always do. What I have a problem with is them leaving the facilities and going out onto the streets of this community and then escalating an already tense situation like they did the other night.

Subsequently he made a stronger plea:

Their presence is neither wanted nor is it helpful and we’re asking them to leave. In fact, we’re demanding that they leave.

To which Acting Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli responded:

We don’t have any plans to do that. When the violence recedes, then that is when we would look at that. This isn’t intended to be a permanent arrangement, but it will last as long as the violence demands additional support to contend with.


Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a federal lawsuit against Homeland Security and its subagencies Friday alleging the federal government had violated Oregonians’ civil rights by seizing and detaining them without probable cause during protests against police brutality in the past week.

Oregon’s senior Senator Ron Wyden:

The Trump administration’s claim that DHS police are needed to enforce the president’s executive order to protect statues is laughable. Terrorizing peaceful protesters and arresting people for graffiti and other nonviolent offenses has nothing to do with securing federal property. My colleagues and I in the Oregon delegation have demanded that these occupying troops leave Portland, demanded answers from the administration and called for an independent investigation. And this week, my fellow senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley, and I will introduce a measure to require Trump to remove these unwanted forces from our city.

Senator Merkley made his own comment:

Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters. These Trump/Barr tactics designed to eliminate any accountability are absolutely unacceptable in America, and must end.

As Governor Brown’s tweet indicates, Acting Secretary Wolf has refused to withdraw his Little Green Men. Acting Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli also refused to pull the LGM back to the federal facilities whose protection is the pretext for their presence.

And I fully expect that as long as people continue to be violent and to destroy property that we will attempt to identify those folks. We will pick them up in front of the courthouse. If we spot them elsewhere, we will pick them up elsewhere. And if we have a question about somebody’s identity – like the first example I noted to you – after questioning determine it isn’t someone of interest, then they get released. And that’s standard law enforcement procedure, and it’s going to continue as long as the violence continues.

Results 1. Sometimes when you break the rules, the results will give you an after-the-fact justification: The problem is solved now, so who’s going to complain? But that’s not the case in Portland. Instead, DHS’ authoritarian overreach has drawn increased local attention to the protests and raised local sympathy for the protesters.

While President Trump on Sunday described the unrest in Portland as a national threat involving “anarchists and agitators,” the protests have featured a wide array of demonstrators, many now galvanized by federal officers exemplifying the militarized enforcement that protesters have long denounced. Gatherings over the weekend grew to upward of 1,000 people — the largest crowds in weeks.

Saturday, mothers (some wearing bicycle helmets in case federal agents would decide to club them) formed a human chain between police and demonstrators and chanted: “Feds stay clear. Moms are here.” Sunday night, a similar group of mothers was in fact dispersed with clubs and gas. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, one woman had a creative response to the threat of police violence.

In one extraordinary moment, a woman, completely naked except for a face mask and a hat, strode through the protests and squared up to federal agents and did a series of ballet and yoga moves. The striking moment was captured on social media and the unidentified woman has been dubbed “Naked Athena.”

Police apparently didn’t know what to do next. OregonLive reported:

About 10 minutes after she arrived, the officers left. The woman left soon after without any additional fanfare. “She was incredibly vulnerable,” [Oregonian/OregonLive photographer Dave] Killen said. “It would have been incredibly painful to be shot with any of those munitions with no clothes on.”

One good place to get a play-by-play of the weekend demonstrations is the Twitter feed of journalist Donovan Farley.

On the whole, it’s hard to argue with Governor Brown’s assessment:

It’s simply like adding gasoline to a fire. What’s needed is de-escalation and dialogue. That’s how we solve problems here in the state of Oregon.

Results 2. How you judge results depends on what your goal is. If the goal is to end the nightly conflicts between police and protesters, and to restore “law and order”, then the federal intervention has been an abject failure.

But when has Trump ever tried to end conflict? Trump thrives on conflict. Arguably, it’s in his political interest to make things worse. The violent federal escalation and abuse of civil rights may annoy Oregonians, but Trump was never going to carry Oregon in November anyway. The more interesting question to him is: How is this playing in swing states? Governor Brown has it right:

Trump is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.

If Fox News can spin this as the President taking strong action to preserve law and order in a city where Democratic officials are unwilling to get tough with the violent anarchists, that’s all he wants. Even better if his “toughness” takes headlines away from his Covid-19 failure. And the more violence, the more headlines.

In short, he’s doing on the ground what he often does on Twitter: provoking a conflict with somebody his base doesn’t like in order to change the narrative from a story where he’s failing. Violent anarchists and feckless Democratic officials are playing the role usually reserved for black athletes like Colin Kaepernick or LeBron James, or charismatic women of color like AOC or Ilhan Omar.

Judged by that standard, Trump may think his intervention in Portland is going quite well.

Where it goes from here. PACT was not created to be a one-off, so Portland can be thought of as a test, a “dress rehearsal” (as Esquire’s Charles Pierce puts it) for a show that might be taken on the road all over the country. The groundwork is being laid to intervene in Chicago, whose black lesbian mayor has already been tagged a “derelict” by press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. A famously liberal city like San Francisco would also make a good target for Trumpist media. A Reichstag fire won’t be necessary; a few lines of graffiti on some federal building will suffice.

Three things are being tested in Portland:

  • Will the PACT agents do whatever they’re told, heedless of the rights of American citizens?
  • Will Trump get away with this legally, or will federal courts put his secret police under injunction? Will Congress intervene in some way?
  • Will Trump pay a political price, either in the media or by losing the support of the congressional Republicans who kept him in office in spite of the crimes he was impeached for?

The first test is clearly a success: Federal agents are acting like secret police in a classic banana republic, and there have been no signs of defections. No leaks, no scandalous stories attributed to anonymous sources.

Remarkably, Portland is a second-layer headline in both the New York Times and Washington Post this morning. You’ll find a Portland story if you scroll down, but they’re not calling your attention to it. I’ve also looked for a biting editorial cartoon on the subject and haven’t found one yet. So at the moment Trump is not paying a price in the mainstream media.

Elected Republicans are also ignoring the story, in spite of the traditional conservative principles being violated. (A satire article published after the first appearance of the Little Green Men in DC is being recirculated: “NRA Accidentally Forgets to Rise Up Against Tyrannical Government“.) It remains to be seen whether Democrats in Congress will insert some anti-LGM language into some must-pass appropriations bill, and whether Mitch McConnell will allow it.

Our best hope at the moment is the courts, where I don’t know what to expect. Neither do the folks at the LawFare blog, which is where I’m hoping to find insight before long. LF’s Steve Vladeck closes that article by wondering which would be worse: that the PACT agents are abusing their authority, or that all this is actually legal somehow?

The ultimate threat. As Trump continues to sink in the polls, more and more pundits raise the question: How will he try to cheat in the election? (The question “Will he try to cheat?” has already been answered. That’s what he was impeached for.) Various voter suppression schemes are brewing, and some are already working. Many of us are hard at work imagining scenarios where some combination of Covid-19 and voting by mail create new vote-stealing or vote-suppressing opportunities.

The true nightmare scenario is if he loses the election but refuses to leave office. Or perhaps he constructs some elaborate conspiracy theory in which the outcome of the election is doubtful, and decides to hang on until the doubt can be resolved to his satisfaction, which it never will be. Obviously, he can’t succeed in that plan entirely on his own, and different scenarios require different accomplices: Republicans in Congress, the Supreme Court, and so on.

If any of those play out (and I’m far from convinced they would) we could find ourselves in a true third-world-country situation, where the last line of defense is that the People refuse to accept a stolen election and take to the streets. In a typical third-world situation, the next question is: What does the Army do? An election-stealing President can often survive if the Army is willing to sweep into the major cities and put down protests.

One reason I have not worried too much about these scenarios is that I don’t think our Army would do that. The traditions of non-interference in the political process go all the way back to George Washington, and are very strong.

But Portland raises an additional question: What do the Little Green Men do? Could Trump really call his Praetorian Guard into the streets against the American people?

That too is being tested in Portland.

The Monday Morning Teaser

There will be a Sift this morning. (My wife’s surgery did happen on Thursday. It went well, and her recovery has been faster than we expected. As a result, the physical and psychological demands the situation places on me have been manageable without cancelling the Sift. Thanks to everyone who has expressed concern and wished us well.)

I think there’s even a pretty good Sift this morning. Like most of you (or at least the “you” I imagine), I’ve been wondering what the heck is going on in Portland. Unidentified feds in camo pulling US citizens into unmarked vans and driving off with them — what’s that about? How can they do that? What happens next?

There’s a story to tell here, and I think I’ve pieced it together. It starts with the military’s reluctance to suppress the protests in DC in early June, and the “success” (from Trump’s point of view) of deploying a motley assortment of armed federal agents with no insignia or other ID. At the time, many legal observers thought DC was special; the same thing couldn’t be done in a state without the consent of its governor. But now it is being done.

Based on Trump’s subsequent executive order protecting federal statues and monuments, DHS has put together the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), an inter-agency umbrella for assembling motley assortments of armed federal agents who operate under no particular rules. That’s who’s in Portland. If this works — where “works” means getting away with actions in a blue state that Fox News can make look good to Trump’s base in swing states — we can expect to see PACT’s little green men in the major cities of blue states all over the country. (Chicago or San Francisco, maybe.) And if Trump ultimately does respond to a lost or contested election with force, it won’t be the Army he calls in, because they won’t come. It will be some motley assortment of armed federal agents operating under no particular rules. (There are, believe it or not, 132,000 of them.)

Telling that story has turned into a long article, which I haven’t quite finished yet. But I think it’s worth your time. I should have it out around 10 or 11 EDT.

The weekly summary hasn’t commanded nearly so much of my effort. The virus continues to spread and Trump continues to ignore it. John Lewis died. And a few other things happened, none of which grabbed my attention like video of federal secret police abducting people off the street. The summary should be out by 1.

Suspicious Manners

I conceive that the President ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic.

George Mason, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788

There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.

James Madison, responding to Mason

This week’s featured post is “Back to School“. I have an unpredictable week ahead of me, so I’m not sure whether there will be a Sift next week or not.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump Crime Family

I decided not to do a featured post on this, because all the points I would make are already being widely discussed. In all of American history, I can’t come up with a presidential action as blatantly corrupt as Trump commuting Roger Stone’s sentence. (Leave a comment if you want to suggest a rival.) It’s like he’s saying: “Sure, I’m obstructing justice. What are you going to do about it?”

Benjamin Wittes lays it out:

Roger Stone isn’t just Trump’s confidante or friend. According to newly unsealed material in the Mueller Report, he’s also a person who had the power to reveal to investigators that Trump likely lied to Mueller—and to whom Trump publicly dangled rewards if Stone refused to provide Mueller with that information. Now, it seems, the president is making good on that promise.

As Judge Amy Berman put it when she sentenced Stone:

He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the President. He was prosecuted for covering up for the President.

Stone hasn’t exactly been subtle. He talked to Howard Fineman Friday, and Fineman recounted the conversation in Saturday’s New York Times:

“I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period,” he reminded me. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”

And so, in the fullness of time — which is to say, about an hour later — the White House made official what Stone already knew: Trump was commuting Stone’s felony convictions for lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses. At 67, Stone would not have to report to a federal pen to serve his allotted 40 months.

Stone’s statement is not hard to interpret: He can testify to something Trump did that a prosecutor would make a deal to learn about — crimes, in other words. Stone deserves his commutation because he didn’t rat out his criminal boss.

Recall the larger plot Stone was part of: Russia hacked Democratic emails, and then sent them to WikiLeaks to be released in a fashion designed to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s. Stone was the connection between WikiLeaks and Trump — not just the Trump campaign, Trump himself. In written testimony to the Mueller investigation, Trump claimed to remember no conversations with Stone about WikiLeaks. If Stone had testified, the President could have been charged with perjury. That’s when Trump began tweeting about how “brave” Stone was and raising speculation about a pardon.

Wittes again:

[T]he commutation means that the story Mueller tells about potential obstruction vis a vis Stone did not end with the activity described by the Mueller Report. It is a continuing pattern of conduct up until the present day.

That’s not all that happened this week on the ending-the-rule-of-law front. On the same day (Friday, of course) that Trump was giving Stone his pay-off for respecting the Trump Family omerta, Consigliere Bill Barr was shutting down another possible source of legal jeopardy: He replaced the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

This is the third time Barr has pulled this trick: He previously installed a lackey at the US Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia (who promptly rewrote the Roger Stone sentencing memo and is trying to walk away from the conviction of Mike Flynn), and tried to do the same thing at SDNY. Each time, he started by making the incumbent US attorneys offers they couldn’t refuse: some cushy job elsewhere in the Trump administration. SDNY’s Berman did refuse, and got fired (but did manage to get his deputy to replace him rather than a Barr-bot).

EDNY is not as famous as its neighboring district SDNY, but it does have its finger in the Trump-corruption pie as well. Newsday reports:

Why Barr has been busily ousting U.S. Attorneys in New York City has been a subject of intense debate and speculation. Several criminal probes and prosecutions in Manhattan have rankled as a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, from the campaign-finance crimes of the president’s former fixer Michael Cohen to the impeachment-related allegations against Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas.

As Trump’s Senate trial played out in February, Politico reported that Donoghue had been in charge of vetting and managing all Ukraine-related efforts. His district reportedly had been heading an investigation into Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant who headed the president’s inauguration committee and whose fundraising for that event allegedly caught the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman violated omerta by testifying during the impeachment hearings in February. He and his twin brother (who had no connection to the impeachment hearings) were then fired from their jobs at the National Security Council. Wednesday, Vindman announced he is retiring from the military after 21 years, due to what his lawyer called “a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” by President Trump.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court gave Trump a split decision on his tax cases: They rejected his argument that he was completely beyond the reach of the law, but allowed him to run out the clock. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone will get to see his tax returns or other business records until after the election.

Last week I mentioned the Commerce Department’s attempt to delay its inspector general’s report on SharpieGate. Now it’s out, and it makes infuriating reading. To make a long story short: Trump couldn’t admit even a trivial mistake, so Mulvaney pressured Ross who pressured NOAA to put out a statement rebuking National Weather Service forecasters for being right and doing their jobs. The process of putting out that cowardly statement consumed NOAA management’s attention while a actual hurricane was still raging.

Ross delegated the problem to Commerce Dept. Chief of Staff Mike Walsh, who denies he ever told anybody at NOAA their jobs were on the line. However, some of the phone conversations with him happened at 2:30 in the morning, so you might understand how the NOAA folks got that impression.

Reading the report, I kept wishing somebody would defend the NWS forecasters and tell the sycophants in the White House to go fuck themselves. (You want to fire me? If you think this looks bad in the media now, wait until you start firing people over it.) But it never happened.

It’s a small incident, but it explains so much about how the last three years have gone: Defending the President’s fragile ego absorbs so much of the government’s attention that there’s not much left to devote to governing. And precious few people (like Colonel Vindman) are willing to risk their careers to stop it.

and schools

It’s time to decide what school-age children are going to do in the fall. It would be nice if communities could make those decisions based on local conditions, using the best scientific insight available, but this is the Trump Era. If you’re for him, you want schools 100% back to normal, and if you don’t, it must be because you hate him. More in the featured post.

Colleges and universities are a different subject, which I didn’t get to this week. I noticed some developments in the college-sports world, though.

The Ivy League won’t have a football season this year. No Harvard vs. Yale game. An Indiana University sports blogger thinks this won’t start a trend.

The Big Ten and the others will do everything in their power to play football this season, simply because there is so much money involved. They can do what the Ivy League can’t — play games without fans and still make a ton of money because of their television contracts — so that will happen if it’s at all possible.

The Big Ten subsequently announced that it will play only conference games, and has not yet committed even to them.

By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

The main problem right now is getting the teams together for practice when players keep testing positive for Covid-19. Makes you wonder what’s going to happen when all the students show up for fall term.

and the virus surge

Since the surge in Covid-19 cases began around June 8 or so, we’ve experienced the mystery of how cases could surge while deaths kept going down. Two obvious explanations were (1) The newly infected people are younger and so less likely to suffer dire consequences. (2) Hospital treatments, particularly of the most serious cases, are getting better.

Those are probably both factors, but there was a third explanation: the time lag between infection and death. As I heard Chris Hayes put it: “We’re between the lightning and the thunder.”

This week the thunder arrived. The low point in deaths appears to have been 217 on July 5. Two weeks ago I predicted:

[N]ationwide, the new-case curve started rising around June 10. That would suggest deaths will begin rising about July 4.

There have been 4980 deaths in the last seven days, compared to 3334 the seven days before that.

The surge in cases is continuing. Depending on when you start the clock on a day, we either did or didn’t break the 70,000-new-case mark on Friday. That number was around 20,000-per-day in early June.

The Trump administration is now treating Dr. Fauci as if he were a political rival. Anonymous sources at the White House distributed a list of supposedly inaccurate statements Fauci has made, “laid out in the style of a campaign’s opposition research document”. CBS’ Face the Nation has been trying to interview Fauci for three months, but the White House has refused permission for that as well as many other interviews. He no longer briefs Trump or appears in White House briefings for the public.

Fauci has committed the unforgivable sin of refusing to let Trump dictate reality. He has directly contradicted Trump’s ridiculous claim that the recent spike in cases is simply a reflection of more testing, and told 538 “As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not.”

Fauci is a civil servant rather than a political appointee, so firing him would be difficult. He could quit, but people close to him say he wants to keep overseeing vaccine development.

There has been a virus outbreak in the Mississippi legislature, leading this embarrassing result:

Gov. Tate Reeves is warning the public to get tested for coronavirus if they have been in contact with a state lawmaker.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re currently doing well, but I worry about complacency. I think the Northeast in general is imagining that we had our outbreak, so the area is immune now. We’ve opened restaurants for indoor dining, which has to be a mistake.

Pittsburgh is a cautionary tale. Allegheny County had zero new cases on June 17, but was back over 200 by July 2.

An economic consequence of the surge is that it has stalled the recovery of the economy. Jobs will come back much more slowly, unemployment is running out, and so far Republicans in Congress are resisting any further stimulus. One expert projects that 20 to 28 million Americans face eviction by September.

and the Supreme Court’s contraception decision

As usual, there was a flurry of end-of-term decisions. In addition to the Trump tax cases mentioned above, the Court issued a 7-2 opinion upholding the Trump administration’s reworking of the religious exemption to ObamaCare contraception mandate. An exemption that the Obama administration originally crafted so that religious organizations that object to birth control wouldn’t have to provide it to their employees has now been stretched to cover any organization — even publicly traded corporations — that claim either a religious or moral objection. What’s more, the Obama administration had a work-around so that the employees would continue to get their birth control covered. The Trump people have thrown that out, with the result that some number of women will now not have contraceptive coverage.

This was just one more step down a wrong path, so I have a hard time criticizing the liberal justices (Kagan and Breyer) who sided with the conservatives. Like Roberts in the Louisiana abortion case last week, Kagan and Breyer had precedents to consider.

The case goes back to a lower court, so it’s still possible that the Trump rule will be thrown out ultimately. But it will be allowed to take effect in the meantime.

Longtime readers know that I am deeply skeptical of all these “conscience” provisions. I think employer-supported health insurance should be like a paycheck: What the employee does with it is none of the employer’s business. Whether somebody works for Little Sisters of the Poor or the Taliban or whoever, their health insurance should cover contraception, and the employer’s moral or religious beliefs should have no bearing on the subject. Again, it’s like a paycheck. If a woman can use her paycheck to buy contraceptives, she should be able to use her health insurance just as freely.

Once you let the employer’s religious or moral values into the picture, though, you’ll never find a place to draw the line. That’s why these cases keep going to the Supreme Court: There’s no clean rule that lower courts can apply unambiguously.

and cancel culture

A large number of well-known people signed “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” that will appear in Harper’s. Some of the names are quite famous, like Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie, while others are people you will frequently see me quoting in this blog, like Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Vox’s Matt Yglesias.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.

While I continue to respect a lot of the signers, I have to say I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just not in plugged into the academic community and don’t appreciate the pressures on campus today. But none of the cases I hear about impress me. For example, NYT opinion-page editor James Bennett resigned (presumably under pressure) after the outcry surrounding his publication of Senator Tom Cotton’s call to use the military to suppress the rioting/protesting after George Floyd’s murder. That seemed like a serious act of bad judgment to me, and was one of a series. (See David Roberts’ article.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, I think, offers some appropriate perspective:

any sober assessment of this history must conclude that the present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon, as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.

Until recently, cancellation flowed exclusively downward, from the powerful to the powerless. But now, in this era of fallen gatekeepers, where anyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook account can be a publisher, banishment has been ostensibly democratized.

He reminds us of the more serious cancellations that are just part of business-as-usual: Colin Kaepernick got drummed out of the NFL for his views; Christine Blasey Ford got death threats for telling her story. It would be nice to live in a more forgiving world, Coates says, but we would need to construct it from scratch. Just going back to the day when the powerful could be forgiven for whatever they say or do, but the powerless could not, is not that world.

and you also might be interested in …

At long last, the Washington Redskins are going to change their name. The new name hasn’t been announced yet. I’m hoping they pick a name unrelated to Native Americans, rather than just dialing back to something like Warriors or Braves and keeping a Redskin-like logo.

It’s funny what does and doesn’t fly as an athletic team name. Only certain breeds of dogs work (bulldogs or wolves). Insects are OK if they sting (hornets or yellowjackets, but not ants or crickets). The Washington Spies would have an appropriate local flavor, but violates some sort of taboo I can’t put my finger on. The Washington Generals ordinarily would work, but that’s the name of the hapless team the Harlem Globetrotters have been beating up on for decades. I could go for Agents or G-Men. If it were up to me, though, I’d play off the Capitol area’s neo-classical architecture and name the team the Centurions.

Peter Wehner of The Atlantic talks to an unnamed Christian minister about the price Christians have paid for supporting Trump:

“Yes, Hollywood and the media created a decidedly unattractive stereotype of Christians. And Donald Trump fits it perfectly. Made it all seem true. And sadly, I now realize that stereotype is more true than I ever knew. It breaks my heart. In volleyball terms, Hollywood did the set, but Trump was the spike that drove the ball home. He’s everything I’ve been trying to say isn’t what the church is all about. But sadly, maybe it is.”

The only thing worth mentioning about Tucker Carlson’s claim that Tammy Duckworth “hates America” is Duckworth’s response:

They’re doing it because they’re desperate for America’s attention to be on anything other than Donald Trump’s failure to lead our nation, and because they think that Mr. Trump’s electoral prospects will be better if they can turn us against one another. Their goal isn’t to make — or keep — America great. It’s to keep Mr. Trump in power, whatever the cost.

It’s better for Mr. Trump to have you focused on whether an Asian-American woman is sufficiently American than to have you mourning the 130,000 Americans killed by a virus he claimed would disappear in February. It’s better for his campaign to distract Americans with whether a combat veteran is sufficiently patriotic than for people to recall that this failed commander in chief has still apparently done nothing about reports of Russia putting bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan.

The Lincoln Project doesn’t mess around.

When my nephew gave me the insider’s tour of the Tennessee State Capitol a few years ago, we had to pass a bust of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest to get into one of the two chambers of the legislature. It looks like that bust is finally leaving the capitol. The war criminal behind the Fort Pillow massacre will no longer guard that chamber, warning African American legislators that Tennessee will never really be their state.

If you want to understand why the fact-checking model doesn’t work any more, consider this Reuters fact-check: “Metal Strip in Medical Masks is Not a 5G Antenna“.

Fact-checking is based on the idea that the information environment is basically clean, so when there’s a disinformation spill, we can go clean it up. But now the insanity has gotten too dense. There’s no way to play whack-a-mole with this stuff any more.

and let’s close with something violent

Jan Hakon Erichsen destroys things on YouTube. Mostly he destroys silly inanimate things, like balloons or pasta, and does it in ways that are either creative or stupid, depending on your mood at the time you watch. But on days when the world has pissed you off and something needs to pay, an Erichsen video may be just the thing.