Dependable Appeal

One of the uncomfortable truths that you find in the dark corners of our history is that fascism happens, recurrently. Movements and demagogues and media figures and elected officials promote elements of fascism: antisemitism, hatred of minority groups and immigrants, worship of strongman leaders, wishing for the end to elections, the end to rule by law — it comes up, repeatedly. It has a certain appeal to a certain percentage of the country, in a fairly dependable way.

– Rachel Maddow
Ultra, episode 8

This week’s featured posts are “Is Club Q just the beginning?” and “Two Glimpses into the Future“.

This week I staked out some turf on Mastodon:

The Weekly Sift Twitter account has been used almost entirely to announce new posts, so at least in the beginning I plan to use Mastodon the same way. I’m also going to stay on Twitter for the time being.

This week everybody was talking about mass shootings

The Wal-Mart shooting in Virginia followed the Club Q shooting in Colorado so quickly that the public didn’t really have time to process Club Q. So I try to do that in one of today’s featured posts. I wanted to make a clear point in that article — the campaign of anti-LGBTQ lies and particularly anti-trans lies is so vicious that it looks designed to set off a pogrom — so a lot of auxiliary details got left out.

Club Q is an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, which is a stronghold of the religious right. In 2021, MinistryWatch identified six different conservative Christian organizations with annual revenue over $100 million that have headquarters there, including James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. As far back as 2005, NPR’s All Things Considered portrayed Colorado Springs as “a Mecca for Evangelical Christians”. (Not long afterward, mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, who figured prominently in NPR’s piece, fell in a drugs-and-gay-sex scandal. He then started another church in Colorado Springs, which also eventually asked him to leave. He then started a third church that met in his home. I don’t know how that’s going.)

In his recent successful reelection campaign in Florida, Senator Marco Rubio answered questions from survivors of the Parkland shooting by pointing to his support for red-flag laws rather than a ban on assault weapons. But the Club Q shooting points out one problem of red-flag laws in the current political environment: The local sheriff is one of many in Colorado who refuse to enforce Colorado’s red-flag law. El Paso County is a “2nd amendment sanctuary”.

So if you’re a violent crazy person and you want to keep your guns, Colorado Springs is the place for you. The citizens must be so proud.

Assault-weapon bans work. The WaPo’s Robert Gebelhoff supports that idea, and adds five other things that work:

  • Keep guns away from kids.
  • Stop the flow of guns
  • Strengthen background checks.
  • Strengthen red flag laws.
  • Treat guns like we treat cars.

Each of Gebelhoff’s points is turned into specific proposals, complete with evidence to support the idea that it will make a difference in the number of gun deaths.

and the incoming GOP House majority

It’s still not clear how Kevin McCarthy is going to get enough votes to become speaker, or what he’ll have to promise to who.

I keep wondering when a dozen or two moderates will realize they could probably cut a better deal in coalition with the Democrats. That has happened in the Alaska legislature.

Meanwhile, the Democrats still have control for the next five weeks. Let’s hope they pass something that takes the debt ceiling off the table for a long time. Having a debt ceiling at all is kind of like having an easily-triggered self-destruct button on your car.

and Twitter

The claim that Elon Musk was going to create a “content moderation council” to decide who gets banned or reactivated was always just for show. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick elaborates:

For years, tons of people have believed, falsely, that it was the CEOs of these social media companies making the final call on what stays up and what stays down. … Indeed, part of the reason those same folks got so excited about Musk taking over, was that they believed (falsely) that he was going to get rid of all the moderation and so they’d be “freed.” Instead, what they have is exactly what they falsely feared was happening before: an impulsive, moody, vindictive billionaire, enforcing his own personal views on moderation. It’s deeply ironic, but his supporters will never recognize that Musk is doing exactly what they falsely believed Dorsey was doing before.

It’s also deeply stupid, because no CEO should be engaged in such day to day decision making on content moderation questions. The flow of questions is absolutely overwhelming.

Conservatives often claim that social media algorithms are biased against them, and that was one reason Elon Musk cited for wanting to take over Twitter. But it’s worth pointing out that people who have done research on the topic have found the exact opposite:

Our results reveal a remarkably consistent trend: In six out of seven countries studied, the mainstream political right enjoys higher algorithmic amplification than the mainstream political left. Consistent with this overall trend, our second set of findings studying the US media landscape revealed that algorithmic amplification favors right-leaning news sources.

I can think of two reasons for both the actual algorithmic bias and the inverted public perception of it:

  • The purpose of social-media algorithms is to generate responses and keep people engaged. The industry understands that negative emotions like anger and fear serve that purpose better than empathy and good will. Since the MAGAverse also emphasizes anger and fear, their interests align. I mean, what’s more likely to keep you clicking: AOC explaining the difference between pardons and expungements, or MTG speculating about Jewish space lasers?
  • When you think of people who have been banned from social media, the names that pop to mind are high-profile conservatives like Trump and MTG, rather than equivalently high-profile liberals. But that’s because no equivalently high-profile liberals have misbehaved to the same extent. For example, none of Biden, Obama, and Clinton have ever used Twitter to incite a riot that got people killed, as Trump did prior to January 6. Twitter’s then-CFO said, “Our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence.”

That second point is supported by this study:

In sum, these data indicate that the tendency of Twitter users to share links to misinformation sites prior to the 2020 US election was as predictive of post-election suspension as partisanship or ideology – because users who were Republican/conservative were much more likely to share low quality information than users who were Democrat/liberal.

If you subscribe to TPM, read Josh Marshall’s “Elon Musk and the Narcissism/Radicalization Maelstrom“. He documents Musk’s rapid radicalization in recent weeks.

He’s done with general “free speech” grievance and springing for alternative viewpoints. He’s routinely pushing all the far right storylines from woke groomers to great replacement.

Marshall makes an apt comparison to Donald Trump, who had vague “dark political impulses and beliefs going back decades,” long before the 2016 campaign. But during that campaign he filled in his views to move to where the applause was loudest and the worship the most intense, i.e., the far right. Musk is doing something similar, but at light speed.

If you’re not a TPM subscriber, check out “Elon Musk has gone full authoritarian” by Dustin Rowles, which covers much of the same ground.

Found on Mastodon: “50 Ways to Leave Your Twitter” by Jon Reed

You just pin your last tweet, Pete …

From there it kind of writes itself.

and protests

Iranian soccer players didn’t sing their national anthem at the World Cup, apparently in support of the protests that have been going on in that country for the last two months. A girls’ basketball team posted to Instagram a team photo in which none of them wore hijabs.

Chinese protesters want the Covid quarantines lifted. It doesn’t seem to be working. China recently had a record 31K new infections in a day, which is actually not that bad by American standards. (We’re averaging about 42K per day, with a much smaller population.) But our cases are less serious because of our vaccines. China relied on a homegrown vaccine, which was never as effective as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and hasn’t been updated for Omicron.

In America, the point of lockdowns was to buy time for vaccines to arrive. It pretty much worked.

but I’d like to talk about two recent books

One of the featured posts discusses Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment and Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest.

and you also might be interested in …

Rachel Maddow’s 8-episode podcast Ultra is complete now. You can binge the whole thing rather than parcel it out week-by-week. It’s the story of American fascists, some directly allied with the Hitler government, who plotted to overthrow democracy in the 1930s and 1940s. The pro-Nazi effort included a couple dozen members of Congress, as well as armed militias in various parts of the country.

Rachel’s theme, which she obviously intends as a lesson applicable to the present, is that the justice system by itself was not able to deal with these plotters, who had enough resources and behind-the-scenes influence to stymie prosecution even after the plot was uncovered. The big names in the plot — Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana and Rep. Hamilton Fish III of New York — never went to jail. (And yes, the Hamilton Fish Bridge on I-84 is indeed named after him and his son, Hamilton Fish IV. I’ve driven over it.) But they did get voted out after the scandal came to light.

yes, the courtroom might have maybe been a more satisfying place for these members of Congress to face consequences for what they had done. But the voters did it instead once they had the information they needed about what those members of Congress had been up to. It’s not jail-time accountability, but it is political accountability.

I’m sure she intends Ultra to be an argument against a let-Jack-Smith-do-it attitude towards Trump and our current crop of fascists. We need anti-fascist and pro-democracy activity at all levels.

What was required then, in the 1940s, was all of it. It was the plucky, creative, heroic efforts of clever, brave Americans, journalists, activists, lawyers, people of faith, citizens of all stripes who came to democracy’s aid when it needed them the most. That is what got us through back then. And now, almost a full century later, we get to learn from what they left us. We inherit their work.

Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system took weeks to produce final results, but they’re in: Democrat Mary Peltola held the House seat that she won in a special election earlier this year, once again defeating Sarah Palin. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski held her seat against a Trump-backed challenger.

In spite of the delay, I’ve become a fan of Alaska’s system. They hold a jungle primary where all candidates are on the same ballot. The top four vote-getters move on to the general election, where voters are allowed to rank them. Votes are then tabulated in rounds. In each round, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated and his/her votes are distributed according to the voters’ rankings. After at most two rounds of redistribution, somebody has a majority.

There are grounds for criticizing this system. For example, a candidate who was the second choice of literally everyone could be eliminated for not getting enough first-choice votes, even though the preferences might indicate that the eliminated candidate would have won one-on-one races against each of the other three. (Something like this appears to have happened to Republican Nick Begich in the special election.) But no system is perfect; there’s an actual theorem that proves it. This system seems better than most, and is a real improvement over the way elections work almost everywhere else.

The major benefit is that a moderate candidate can win by getting support from people of both parties plus independents, even though that candidate would have lost either party’s primary. That’s what Murkowski appears to have done this time.

New York magazine’s Intelligencer explains the FTX crypto collapse at many different levels of sophistication. I’ll let you find your own level.

The thing I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is that Sam Bankman-Fried’s net worth was estimated at $16 billion earlier this month, but more recently “Bloomberg Billionaires Index considered Bankman-Fried to have no material wealth.” Seems like he could have tucked a few hundred million under a floorboard somewhere.

Josh Marshall nails something in this tweetstorm about guys who label themselves “alpha males”, like conservative author Nick Adams.

An Alpha, to the extent the term has any meaning, is the guy who the other guys get behind. Girls are into him. Charisma. Big man on campus, etc. … Back in the real world, being alpha can’t ever be a “hard job” since that’s basically the opposite of what being an alpha is – dominant, powerful, assertive and – critically – the ability to pull those things off. … If you’re going around constantly saying you’re an “alpha” and how it’s just getting harder and harder to do and things are tough all over and everyone’s being such dicks to the “alphas” and wow inflation is so high I can’t afford the chicken wings at Hooters… well, you’re pretty clearly doing it wrong.

In other words, alphahood isn’t a lifestyle you can choose. It’s something that either shows up in your life or it doesn’t.

The NYT published its annual assault on my ego: The 100 Notable Books of 2022. Usually I’ve read one or two of them, but this year it’s zero. The WaPo lists ten best books, which I have also read none of.

and let’s close with something that saves time

I’ve closed before with John Atkinson’s cartoons, particularly his radically condensed versions of classic novels. As we enter into the Christmas season, it’s a good time to recall Atkinson’s retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Is Club Q just the beginning?

It seems weird to say that one mass shooting is more disturbing than another. Whatever the details, people are dead for reasons that have little to do with the lives they thought they were leading. They didn’t do anything wrong or take foolish risks. They just happened to be in the way when someone started shooting.

Instinctively, we want to draw lessons from other people’s misfortunes, hoping to find some rule to protect us from similar harm. But mass shootings defy that impulse, because (on a personal level) there’s little to learn from them short of “Stay home and barricade the door.”

The six victims who died in the Chesapeake shooting Tuesday were just people who showed up for work. The three University of Virginia football players killed two weeks ago were on a class bus trip coming back from a play, and one of them was asleep. The five killed in Colorado Springs nine days ago were out at a club. There’s no cautionary tale to tell about them. Their deaths just remind us that we could die too, suddenly, without any prior awareness that we were walking into that kind of story.

So how could one such event be any more disturbing than another (in any way other than quantitatively — more dead, more wounded)? When I mentioned Club Q last week, one commenter wasn’t interested in whether or not it was a hate crime, because that distinction could hardly make it worse. Mass shootings are “wrong on so many levels, finding out why the perpetrator thought they needed to do this heinous thing is at the absolute bottom of my list of questions.”

I get that. And yet, I find myself ruminating over the Club Q shooting more than the others. This shooting seems different to me, because it looks so repeatable.

But even that observation doesn’t quite capture it, because in a sense every mass shootings is a repeat of all the previous ones. The stories have different details, but only a handful of plots: Someone feels insignificant, and believes that killing others will make him consequential. Or feels insulted or threatened or picked on, and wants to act out revenge on the largest possible scale. Or becomes convinced that some grievous wrong is happening in the world, one that they must fix themselves through violence. Or something similar.

Our country is awash in weapons of war. Our culture glorifies violence. We are constantly exposed to conspiracy theories that claim to expose great wrongs and the villains who perpetrate them. So we seldom go more than a week or two without a mass shooting, and sometimes they cluster, so that a new one happens before the news cycle of the previous one has played out.

We know the pattern is going to repeat. Next week, two weeks from now, there will be another shooting, another shooter, another list of dead people, another town that is probably not your town, but probably not so different.

But the Club Q shooting is repeatable in a much more specific way. Conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people, especially trans people, are circulating widely and are no longer just on the fringe: They’re being pushed by leaders in conservative media and politics. Among the theories regularly touted on the right, you will find:

Violence is often suggested as a proper response to these “assaults” on children. In April, Tucker Carlson said:

I don’t understand where the men are. Like where are the dads? You know, some teacher’s pushing sex values on your third grader. Why don’t you go in and thrash the teacher?

The Proud Boys, a group known for violence, several of whom are on trial for their role in the January 6 riot, have been disrupting drag story hours at libraries around the country. Boston Children’s Hospital received bomb threats after right-wing media accused it of “child abuse” for its gender-affirming care.

And then there’s Club Q: Someone kills five and wounds 19 others at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs on the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when an all-ages drag show was scheduled.

No doubt the shooter has some unique story, but this was not in any sense a lone-wolf attack. An entire political movement has been plowing the ground and planting the seeds for something like this to happen. And they’re not stopping. On only his second show after the Club Q shooting, Tucker Carlson repeated the tropes I listed above, and interviewed anti-trans activist Jaimee Michell, who said:

Saying that “groomer” is an anti-LGBTQ slur, that is doing irreparable damage to us as a whole, and it’s putting a really large target on our backs. And unfortunately, you know, the tragedy that happened in Colorado Springs the other night, it was expected and predictable. Sadly I don’t think it’s going to stop until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.

I don’t know how to interpret that in any other way than “They had it coming.”

Usually, opinion leaders who campaign against a group are at least momentarily silenced when that group is violently attacked. They may not take any responsibility or make any long-term change in their rhetoric, but they do at least go silent for a while. When the El Paso shooter targeted Hispanics in a WalMart, for example, President Trump did not immediately double down on the “invasion” frame that the shooter had taken literally. He came back to it later, but not right away.

But this time is different. People like Carlson and Michell did double down. They may not have explicitly called for more violence, but they repeated the distorted chain of logic that led to that violence.

The way to start a pogrom against a group of people has been understood for centuries: You tell such a vicious lie about them that, to those who believe your lie, anything done in response seems fair. Anti-Jewish pogroms were started by the blood libel: Jews needed the blood of a Christian child to consecrate their matzohs for Passover. So any child who went missing at the wrong time of year might have been murdered by Jews. “When will these outrages stop?” Christians asked each other, and before long a mob would be in the Jewish quarter bashing heads and burning homes.

That looks to be what’s going on here. In actual fact,

  • Trans people and drag queens pose no threats to your children.
  • No men-claiming-to-be-women are waiting in public bathrooms to attack your daughters.
  • No teachers, counselors, therapists, or doctors are plotting to convince your children to change their genders.
  • Seeing a same-sex couple, either in person or on TV, is no more “sexual” than seeing an opposite-sex couple.
  • Diversity curricula in schools are not grooming your children for pedophiles.

Those are all blood libels. Their purpose is to start a pogrom. And it might be working.

Two Glimpses into the Future

Will American democracy survive after Whites become a minority?
And will the super-rich care whether civilization survives at all?

Following 2020 and 2022 elections, a number of articles have suggested that Democrats losing their hold on Hispanic voters, a development portrayed in liberal circles as something ominous that needs to be fixed. For years, the increasing number of Hispanic Americans was thought to promise Democrats some sort of demographic inevitability, and now they seem to be blowing it.

I’m of two minds about this line of thought. On the one hand, no segment of the electorate should be taken for granted, so the complaints that Democrats are offering Hispanic voters “noble rhetoric but never a seat at the table” deserve serious attention.

On the other, the whole emerging Democratic majority argument now seems wrong-headed, for reasons that Yascha Mounk spells out in the The Great Experiment: Why diverse democracies fall apart and how they can endure.

Mounk is deeply worried about the possible future in which we have a White Party and a People of Color Party. If the major-party identities get fixed in such a tribal way, he has a hard time seeing how democracy in America avoids devolving into civil strife, as it has in, say, Lebanon. Democracy should be about voters who are open to changing their minds when the other party presents a compelling vision, not about rival blocs you are born into and never leave. In a racially-defined two-party system, neither party can hope to convince the other’s voters, so they will end up competing in less positive ways.

To the extent that the parties themselves believe in demographic inevitability, they start to take their own demographic groups for granted and cast the other party’s demographic groups as enemies. You can see this happening already among MAGA Republicans, who see the coming non-White majority as a “Great Replacement” of White people, and try to head off that threat by rigging the system so that the dawning non-White majority never achieves power: stop non-White immigration, stop non-White immigrants from becoming citizens, make it hard for non-White citizens to vote, herd them into gerrymandered districts that minimize their political strength, and so on. Some on the right are ready to jettison democracy entirely rather than face a future where Whites lose power.

Many Democrats, on the other hand, fail to see why they need to win Hispanic votes. I mean, they’re Hispanics. What’s wrong with them if they can’t see which party they’re supposed to support? Conversely, White Evangelicals get written off, and they shouldn’t be. There are good Christian reasons to support liberal policies, and that argument needs to be made.

But Mounk is an optimist in that he believes the melting pot is still bubbling, at least for some groups. The original ethnic majority in the US was English, then Northern European (minus the Irish), and then grew to include Eastern and Southern Europeans (plus the Irish). (Jews, I think, are a special case — assimilated in some ways but not others, and still a political identity in a sense that Italians and Poles no longer are. Jews are separate enough that Doug Mastriano would try to make an issue of Josh Shapiro’s religion in the 2022 Pennsylvania governor’s race. But they’re accepted enough that he failed by a wide margin.) So why couldn’t it also absorb Hispanics, Asians, and Muslims? He thinks that’s starting to happen, and sees it as a good thing: There should be no need for either a White Party or a People of Color Party.

When their race or religion stops being a defining characteristic, Hispanic, Asian, and Muslim political views may come to more closely resemble the rest of the country. Hispanic businessmen, for example, may start to vote like other businessmen, Hispanic Catholics like other Catholics, and Asian or Muslim professionals like other professionals. If Republicans stop casting non-Whites and non-Christians as enemies, people of any race or religion may decide that they prefer lower taxes, less regulation, and other traditionally Republican policies.

Mounk glides over what this means for Black people, whose path into the mainstream has always been more difficult. (To an extent, non-Blackness has been the unifying principle of America’s ever-expanding “White” majority.) Mounk doesn’t explain why this will change, which I think is a major hole in his argument. But I believe this much of his thesis is sound: It’s a mistake to think that people will or won’t vote for you purely because they belong to this race or that religion. There’s nothing inevitable about Democratic dominance in a post-White-majority America — and that’s a good thing for democracy. Both parties would do well to recognize that fact and compete to win the allegiance of the new voters.

Another interesting recent book is Survival of the Richest: escape fantasies of the tech billionaires by Douglas Rushkoff.

Rushkoff describes himself in the introduction as a “Marxist media theorist” and “a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives”. So he is “often mistaken for a futurist” and often finds himself at the same futuristic conferences as tech billionaires. One time he was paid to fly out to a desert compound, and discovered that the small conference he thought he would address was actually a handful billionaires who wanted advice on where to site their apocalyptic refuges and how to keep control of their mercenaries after the legal system collapses.

His book describes a fundamental change in capitalism and the capitalist mindset. Originally, the point of establishing some income-producing enterprise — a shop, a farm, a factory, or whatever — was to create something that could be passed down through the generations like a medieval fiefdom. (This is my interpretation of Rushkoff’s point, and the examples that follow are mine rather than his.) For example, I imagine Henry Ford would have been thrilled to glimpse a future in which the Ford Motor Company still existed 75 years after his death and was still a major source of wealth for his descendants. Some small-scale capitalist — let’s call him Jack — might well have a similar fantasy of a great-grandchild still owning and operating Jack’s Bar & Grill a century hence.

But recently, particularly in the tech world, the prevailing fantasy has shifted to one where you cash out. Elon Musk‘s original fortune, for example, came from co-founding Zip2 and then selling it to Compaq for $300 million. He then co-founded an online bank, which merged into PayPal, which was eventually bought by eBay.

These days, that’s what a tech entrepreneur hopes to do: turn an idea into a business that works, then sell that business and move on to the next idea. It’s as if, rather than open a Mom & Pop grocery and hope to pass it down to your kids someday, you started M&P Grocery Franchises with the idea of selling it to Walmart or Kroger in a few years.

The old model softened capitalism somewhat by connecting the capitalist to the community, because the community was the arena in which success would ultimately play out. Your shop might become a landmark, or your factory could make you a pillar of the community. Some rich families were easily identified with their cities, like the Pillsburys in Minneapolis or the Buschs in St. Louis.

The new model, though, is about transcending the community. You build a team to implement your idea. You hire workers to provide your service or build your product. And once all those relationships are established, you sell and move on.

Rushkoff refers to this as “The Mindset”, and he thinks it explains the wealthy’s disinterest in preventing possible future dystopias: My ultimate fantasy doesn’t rely on the world not going to hell, but on transcending Earth-bound society by colonizing Mars, or uploading my consciousness to the Cloud, or building my Bond-villain bunker in the wilds of Alaska (assuming I can figure out how to control my mercenaries after the legal system collapses).

[T]hese people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society. Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last Monday, the Club Q shooting was recent enough that I hadn’t thought it through yet. Quick reactions to disturbing events often turn out to be misguided, and I didn’t want to muddy the waters any further. But the more I think about it, the more I reaffirm my original sense that this represents something even worse than the typical mass shooting. I write that while realizing that it’s crazy to diminish any mass shooting by calling it “typical”. What could possibly be worse?

That’s what I’ll try to flesh out this morning in “Is Club Q just the beginning?” What’s particularly disturbing about the Club Q massacre is that the far-right end of our political spectrum didn’t react with the horror that mass shootings usually require, at least in public. Usually, people whose rhetoric has attacked the targeted group may not take responsibility for their malign influence, but they usually at least go silent for a while. This time they didn’t. Anti-trans rhetoric in particular continued apace. The people pushing it had to recognize the they-had-it-coming interpretation of their words, but they didn’t seem to care.

Of course there will be more mass shootings in general. That seems to go without saying in our gun-saturated country. But going forward, it seems increasingly likely that there will be more mass shootings like this one. To me, that’s disturbing in a new way.

That post will be out late, maybe not until noon EST. Before that, I’ll post a review of two recent books: Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment about diverse democracy, and Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest about a bizarre change in the fantasies of the very rich. That should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will cover guns, Twitter, protests in Iran and China, Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system, and a few other things, before closing with an extremely condensed version of Dickens. That should be out by 1 or so.

The Unfinished Mission

I look forward – always forward – to the unfolding story of our nation: a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one, and, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

This week’s featured post is “When can I stop writing about Trump?“.

This week everybody was talking about the new Congress

We finally have a result in the House: the Republicans will have a narrow majority, with somewhere between 3 and 11 more seats than the Democrats. (For comparison, Democrats came out of the 2020 elections with 9 more seats than the Republicans.) Kevin McCarthy was reelected leader of the GOP House caucus, but whether that means he has the votes to become speaker is still undetermined.

Successful Republican candidates ran on the issues of inflation and crime, so McCarthy immediately unveiled a legislative program to address those problems. NO, I’M KIDDING. Republicans immediately starting talking about investigating Hunter Biden.

At a press conference on Thursday, when a reporter began to pose a question about the plans of the coming Republican majority that was not linked to the Biden family, [incoming Chair of the House Oversight Committee James] Comer, from Kentucky, sprang forward to say, “If we could keep it about Hunter Biden, that would be great.”

This investigation is supposed to own the libs somehow, but I don’t know any Democrats who actually care about Hunter (other than, I assume, his Dad). Hunter is a private citizen who (unlike, say, Ivanka and Jared) has held no position in his father’s administration. In four years, the Trump Justice Department somehow failed to prosecute Hunter for anything, and there’s already a DoJ investigation and a grand jury hearing testimony about him in Delaware. But if McCarthy thinks the House can do better, he should have at it. (BTW: Marcy Wheeler’s opinion is that the “Hunter Biden laptop” is a forensic mess.)

If Hunter does wind up in jail someday, though, I don’t see that outcome having any effect on the country or even the government, other than making the President sad.

McCarthy promises investigations plural, but again, little in the way of legislation that will offer Republican solutions that the Democratic Senate will have to respond to. Other investigations might include harassing the Department of Justice for investigating Trump’s crimes (because the Durham investigation worked out so well), promoting conspiracy theories about the origin of Covid-19, examining Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the state of our border with Mexico (which could be interesting if Republicans look at it honestly, which I suspect they won’t).

Marjorie Taylor Greene claims that she has gotten a promise from McCarthy to “investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.” Because, you know, they’re all political prisoners who didn’t really do anything wrong, no matter what the juries say.

Will the GOP learn anything from its disappointing 2022 results? Looking at the lame-duck agenda of the Pennsylvania House, which will flip to the Democrats in January, Amanda Marcotte thinks not.

[Philadelphia District Attorney Larry] Krasner’s impeachment is just a symptom of this larger problem. We shouldn’t expect any Republicans, anywhere, to respond to these midterm losses by actively trying to deradicalize their party. If only. They’ll just double down on conspiracy theories and lies, in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the voters who keep rejecting them.

Josh Hawley’s WaPo op-ed is a somewhat mixed bag, but mostly proves Marcotte’s point. The GOP’s problem, Hawley thinks, is that it hasn’t been radical enough.

For the past two years, the Republican establishment in Washington has capitulated on issue after issue, caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment and on the left’s radical climate agenda (“infrastructure”).

“Caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment” is a reference to the very modest (and very popular) reform bill passed in June, which increased background checks for gun buyers under 21 and made it harder for domestic abusers to own guns. (Hawley is welcome to propose a “give guns back to domestic abusers” bill if he wants.) And I wonder what his alternative to “the left’s radical climate agenda” is. Let it burn?

The positive side of Hawley’s article is that he wants Republicans to stop threatening Social Security and Medicare, and siding with Big Pharma on insulin prices. But then there’s this:

Republicans will only secure the generational victories they crave when they come to terms with this reality: They must persuade a critical mass of working class voters that the GOP truly represents their interests and protects their culture. [my italics]

When he wrote the phrase “working class”, Hawley left out the modifying phrase “older White Christian”, which is clearly implied. A government that “protects the culture” against change is the essence of Orbanism, which appears to be the new model for Republican authoritarian government. That agenda is not just anti-immigrant, but also pro-fossil-fuel, pro-Don’t-Say-Gay, anti-trans, anti-voting-rights, and against any attempt to tell school children about America’s history of racism. I don’t think younger voters support that agenda, even in the White Christian working class.

What happened to the Impeachment 10, the ten Republicans in the House who voted for Trump’s second impeachment? Only one, Dan Newhouse of Washington, got re-elected. Dan Valadao of California got renominated and leads, though his race still hasn’t been called.

Four retired: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Katko of New York. Gonzalez’ district got eliminated when Ohio lost a seat after the 2020 census. Republicans held Kinzinger’s and Katko’s seats, but lost Upton’s.

Four lost primaries: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, and Peter Meijer of Michigan. Republicans held Cheney’s and Rice’s seats, but lost Beutler’s and Meijer’s.

So: One re-elected. One re-election still undecided. One seat eliminated. Four seats held by new Republicans. Three seats lost to Democrats. So Trump mostly got the scalps he was after, but at a cost to his party.

and Nancy Pelosi

She was going to have to give up the speakership anyway, now that the Republicans have won the majority and will take over the House in January. But she also announced that she won’t run to lead the House Democratic caucus, a position she has held since 2003. She has been speaker twice, 2007-2011 and 2019-2023.

Progressives like to bash Pelosi for favoring moderate positions, but I can’t think of an example during her speakership of a progressive bill that passed the Senate but got stuck in the House. If some part of the Obama or Biden agenda had a legitimate chance to become law, Speaker Pelosi passed it. She is widely given credit for the legislative maneuver that pushed ObamaCare over the finish line after the Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.

I think Kevin McCarthy is about to show us just how difficult it is to be speaker when you have a narrow majority. (John Boehner and Paul Ryan had trouble governing with much larger majorities, or even predicting what their caucus was going to do.) Like Ginger Rogers matching Fred Astaire’s moves backwards and in heels, Pelosi has made speakership look easy these last few years, but it’s not.

It’s not just Pelosi stepping aside, but also her second and third in command, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn. That clears a path for a new generation of Democratic leaders. The new minority leader is likely to be Hakeem Jefferies, a 52-year-old from New York. 58-year-old Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and 43-year-old Pete Aguilar of California are likely to join him in the Democratic leadership.

Pelosi’s resignation speech on the floor of the House included a classic Pelosi insult-by-omission.

It has been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people.  I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama, and forging the future – from infrastructure to health care to climate action – with President Joe Biden.

Wait. Wasn’t some fourth guy president during part of her speakership? Give me a minute. His name is right on the tip of my tongue.

and Trump

The featured post looks at the convergence of several Trump stories this week: the announcement of his candidacy, the surprisingly cool reaction that announcement got, Merrick Garland naming a special prosecutor to investigate Trump, and Elon Musk reactivating Trump’s Twitter account, which it’s not clear that he’s going to start using again.

and Twitter

This week Twitter continued to hemorrhage users, engineers, advertisers, and cash. MarketWatch reports on the engineers:

Elon Musk’s managerial bomb-throwing at Twitter has so thinned the ranks of software engineers who keep the world’s de-facto public square up and running that industry insiders and programmers who were fired or resigned this week agree: Twitter may soon fray so badly it could actually crash.

Musk ended a very public argument with nearly two dozen coders critical to the microblogging platform’s stability by ordering them fired this week. Hundreds of engineers and other workers then quit after he demanded they pledge to “extremely hardcore” work by Thursday evening or resign with severance pay.

The newest departures mean the platform is losing workers just at it is gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which opens Sunday. It’s one of Twitter’s busiest events, when tweet surges heavily stress its systems.

The Wall Street Journal describes the money situation:

Nearly 90% of its revenue last year came from advertising, and it traditionally has been the company’s main source of revenue. … The exodus of advertisers poses a threat for a company so reliant on that revenue stream. “As an online ad company, you’re flirting with disaster,” said Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. … Market-research firm Insider Intelligence Inc. recently cut its annual ad-revenue revenue outlook for Twitter by nearly 40% through 2024.

Meanwhile, Twitter has interest payments to meet. Musk financed $13 billion of his $42 billion purchase by loading the company with debt. That debt is at higher interest rates because the credit rating has dropped.

As for users, I am regularly seeing messages from my Facebook friends telling me their new Mastodon address. I rarely use Twitter for anything other than posting links to Weekly Sift articles, but I will probably try out Mastodon soon.

I’m thinking that this might turn into a big enough disaster to change the culture. Going forward, it’s going to be really hard to make the case that billionaires are rich because they’re so much smarter than the rest of us.

and you also might be interested in …

There was a lot of fear in the air Tuesday when a missile crossed the Ukrainian border and hit inside Poland. What if this was a deliberate Russian attack, a warning shot telling NATO to stop supporting Ukraine? Would NATO have to respond somehow? If it did, would we be be on some kind of tit-for-tat escalation path towards World War III?

Apparently not. The currently accepted theory is that Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine led the Ukrainians to fire air defense missiles. One of those went astray and landed inside Poland, killing two people.

During the coverage of this incident I learned that Russian misfires (which this strike now appears not to be) are more and more likely as the war goes on. Russia has used up nearly all of its most accurate missiles and is now shooting off whatever it has left. For example, they’ve started using anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles against land targets.

Strikes from a Russian S-300 air defense system “don’t have the ‘oomph’ to really hit hardened military targets and they don’t have the accuracy in a land attack role to even strike the building you want to hit,” [Ian] Williams [of the Center for Strategic and International Studies] said. “This really is just firing them into the ether and seeing where they land.”

It’s still too soon to say anything conclusive about the shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club Saturday night, but it has all the marks of a hate crime.

While no motive in the shooting has been disclosed by authorities, the violence comes amid heightened tensions for the LGBTQ community. Several drag events around the country have drawn protests and threats, with some protesters carrying firearms, and more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the first three months of this year, most of them targeting trans people.

The COP-27 climate conference in Egypt was a mixed bag. The decision to create a loss-and-damage fund is big, but the commitment to phase out fossil fuels didn’t happen.

and let’s close with something epic

A strangely acquired taste is the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube. My favorite so far is Eastern vs. Western philosophers.

When can I stop writing about Trump?

Maybe soon. Trump-related stories were all over the news this week,
but they point towards a future where Trump may not matter.

I didn’t want to write another Trump post this week, but the convergence of headlines was hard to ignore. This week:

  • Trump announced his 2024 candidacy.
  • Republicans and conservative media were surprisingly cool about a Trump candidacy.
  • Merrick Garland named a special prosecutor to investigate/prosecute Trump.
  • Elon Musk restored Trump’s Twitter account.

So I guess I have to pay attention.

Has he finally jumped the shark? Last week I was skeptical that the GOP was finally getting over Trump. Sure, he endorsed a string of bad candidates who lost winnable races, and a statistical analysis indicated that MAGA Republican candidates for Congress ran about five points behind non-MAGA Republican candidates. And yes, Ron DeSantis’ surprisingly large victory margin in Florida supported the idea that he is a winner while Trump is a loser. So it wasn’t all that surprising that a few GOP leaders and conservative pundits began inching away from the Former Guy.

A week ago, I wasn’t buying it. Republicans have tried to move away from Trump before — most recently after he incited a mob to attack Congress in an effort to hang onto power after losing the 2020 election. But it never lasts. After January 6, it took about three weeks for Kevin McCarthy to go from wanting Trump to resign to making a Mar-a-Lago pilgrimage. Why should this time be different?

But this week, maybe I am buying it. I’m at least examining the possibility. Trump announced his 2024 candidacy Tuesday, and the response was not what either he or I expected. No major network carried the whole speech live: Fox and CNN started to, but then cut away as Trump rambled. The Fox coverage was particularly Orwellian: As Trump droned on, the network’s talking heads enthused about the greatness of the event they had stopped broadcasting. “This was an absolutely brilliant speech,” Mike Huckabee proclaimed, using the past tense to describe something that was still happening, “the best I have heard him give in a long time.”

Most news outlets ran articles on the speech, but they were more skeptical than thrilled or horrified. The snarkiest was Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, whose cover said “Florida Man Makes Announcement, page 26”. Trump had probably pictured his fans cheering and his enemies trembling in fear or outrage. But I don’t think he expected so many people to laugh.

The Democratic response is also telling. Democrats worry about whether Biden is up for another run, about who could replace him if he isn’t, and about whether younger Trumpists like DeSantis or Youngkin might be harder to demonize than the Mar-a-Loser. Beating Trump, on the other hand, is a familiar challenge. We did it before, we’ll do it again.

Et tu, pastor? Apparently even Evangelical leaders are jumping off Trump’s sinking yacht.

“He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us,” [televangelist Mike] Evans wrote. “I cannot do that anymore.”

Had to? The supposed heirs to the tradition of the Prophet Nathan and John the Baptist had to bow down to Trump. And the spark causing Evans to turn away is not some new outrage that he just can’t stomach — or even a straw that finally broke his back — but Trump’s loss of power and influence.

What might be happening. Here’s my theory: The hard-core Trump cultist worries about being a loser, but in his mind he becomes a winner by identifying with the ultimate winner, Donald Trump. As the classic children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me” puts it: “They are weak, but He is strong.” Trump is fighting the same dark forces that the cultist blames for his own disappointments, but Trump is going to defeat them.

Trump constantly stokes this identification, claiming that people who attack him are really attacking his followers, as if his followers had been assaulting women, taking money from foreign governments, or stealing classified documents.

But what if Trump starts to look like a loser himself? He rolled through the 2016 primaries, then in November unexpectedly won in the Electoral College in spite of losing the popular vote by millions. When he lost bigly to Biden in 2020, he said he really won, and his cult agreed to believe that story. But in 2022, Trump’s candidates lost all over the country. (And this is where the Trump cult’s anti-Biden and anti-Democrat propaganda boomerangs: How could all those MAGA Republicans possibly have lost? Biden is senile. Fetterman is a vegetable after his stroke. Everybody hates Gretchen Whitmer because of her Covid tyranny. How did they win? How did they beat Trump?)

So you lose once and claim the other guy cheated. OK, maybe. But you can’t go to that well over and over. The message has to be: “The other guy cheated me, and I’m going to make him pay.” If you can’t make him pay, if you get cheated again and again — then you’re just like the rest of the losers.

What happens then? I don’t expect Trump’s followers to turn on him because he has stopped winning. But I do think their enthusiasm starts to fade, because he’s not delivering the ego boost they need any more. So maybe they just quietly drift away.

Establishment Republicans hope someone like DeSantis can excite the base without reproducing Trump’s embarrassing transgressions, but I don’t that’s going to work. Trump’s trangressiveness is an irreplaceable part of his appeal. He does whatever he wants. He calls Mexicans rapists, cheats the taxman, taunts his opponents with playground nicknames, grabs women by the pussy — and gets away with it all. That’s what being a “winner” means to Trump’s base.

Telling it like it isn’t. The Atlantic’s David Graham made another good observation about the difference between Trump 2024 and Trump 2016. In spite of all his exaggerations and lies, Trump 2016’s appeal

was built on his willingness to speak the supposedly obvious facts that other politicians would not. He would tell voters that the political system was rigged toward donors. He would say that free-trade policies had harmed many Americans. If they were racist or xenophobic, he’d speak their truths, too. The central appeal was common sense, even when it was neither common nor sensical.

But Trump 2024 asks his followers to disbelieve things they can see and misremember events they lived through.

Consider this account of his presidency from the announcement speech: “Two years ago when I left office, the United States stood ready for its golden age. Our nation was at the pinnacle of power, prosperity, and prestige, towering above all rivals, vanquishing all enemies, and striding into the future confident and so strong … There was never a time like this … When the virus hit our shores, I took decisive action and saved lives and the U.S. economy.”

Some people might want to remember 2020 that way, but few will be able to manage it.

The special counsel. Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to investigate events related to January 6, and also to the classified documents and presidential records found at Mar-a-Lago. In his press conference, Garland said:

Based on recent developments, including Trump’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the current president’s intention to be a candidate in the next election, I have concluded it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel.

This announcement has both optimistic and pessimistic interpretations for people who want to see Trump held accountable for his crimes. The pessimistic interpretation is that Merrick Garland is adding his name to the list of people who couldn’t manage to nail Trump. James Comey couldn’t do it. Bob Mueller. The first and second sets of impeachment managers. The January 6 Committee. And now Merrick Garland. He passes the baton to Jack Smith — and why should Smith do any better than the previous investigators?

Andrew Weissman, who was part of the Mueller investigation and wrote the book Where Law Ends about it, believes this time is different.

The new Special Counsel, unlike Special Counsel Mueller, WILL be able to indict Trump as he is no longer POTUS and WILL NOT have to worry about being fired from one day to the next by sitting POTUS. And he inherits a large amount of evidence and a team that is in place already. The new Special Counsel also will not have to overcome, as Special Counsel Mueller did, Trump’s dangling presidential pardons to thwart cooperation with the investigation. Or using DOJ to stymie and misrepresent the investigation.

New York magazine’s Intelligencer column presents a more balanced view: However it unfolds, this process is still going to take a long time. The big timing decision for Smith to make is whether to indict Trump quickly for the Mar-a-Lago documents — a fairly simple case that is nearly ready to go — or to wait until a more complex January 6 investigation is complete and charge everything at once.

Trump and Twitter. And speaking of sinking yachts, Elon Musk arbitrarily announced the reactivation of Trump’s Twitter account Saturday evening. Trump had been banned from Twitter because he misused it to foment violence on January 6, and seemed like to misuse it again. To me, that logic still holds, but apparently not to Musk. He had previously said that the no major reinstatements would happen until he could convene “a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints”. But never mind. Musk posted a poll Thursday and announced the result Saturday.

Anyway, at the moment all this means is that Trump’s old tweets are available again. Trump has not tweeted anything new yet, and his agreement with Truth Social (which he at least partially owns) puts restrictions on what he can post on other social-media platforms. So we’ll see what happens.

He may be worried about returning to Twitter only to see it quickly declare bankruptcy, which Musk has floated as a possibility. There’s a limit to how much failure his public image can stand to be associated with.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m getting really tired of writing about Donald Trump, but this week I feel like I don’t have a choice. In quick succession, he announced his 2024 candidacy, a lot of high-profile Republicans and conservative pundits refused to endorse that candidacy, Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate and possibly prosecute Trump, and Elon Musk reactivated Trump’s Twitter account.

So here we are, I’m writing about him again. That article should be out around 10 EST or so.

In other news, the new Congress is finally taking shape. Democrats retain control of the Senate while Republicans claim the House by a surprisingly narrow (and still undetermined) margin. The new House leadership wasted no time announcing its extensive legislative agenda, which centers on … wait for it … Hunter Biden. I can hardly wait, and I can already feel America’s greatness returning.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are turning over their leadership, as Nancy Pelosi promised four years ago.

The collapse of Twitter continues apace. I’ll be interested to see if Trump starts posting again. Can two sinking ships hold each other up?

The missile that crossed the Polish border caused a lot of angst, but after investigation it looks like a Ukrainian misfire rather than a Russian provocation. So we’re not heading into World War III in the near future. And the climate conference in Egypt closed to mixed reviews.

I’ll try to get the weekly summary out by noon.

Every County

Every county, every vote. … I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue. But we did what we needed to do. And we had that conversation across every one of those counties. And tonight, that’s why I’ll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

John Fetterman

This week’s featured post is “Notes on the midterm elections“.

This week everybody was talking about the midterms

That’s the subject of the featured post.

I noticed this too late to include in that post, but it perfectly illustrates how unlikely MAGA Republicans are to learn from their mistakes. Like their object of worship, they don’t make mistakes, so how could they learn from them?

The American Greatness blog has put its finger on who’s to blame for MAGA candidates’ failure: the voters.

The problem here is voter quality.

The picture we got from Tuesday is that of a decadent, vegetative electorate easily swayed by platitudes and sentimental appeals, fervently attached to its entitlements. … Republicans performed well with married men and women—the people who should be the center of our civic life, while Democrats dominated with unmarried women and the twitchy, nihilist Gen Z. 

Again: voter quality.

The writer only expects things to get worse “after another 10 or 15 years of mass immigration have taken their toll”. He doesn’t say it, but the obvious answer is to give up on democracy entirely and take power by force.

David Frum recalls how after 2016, reporters from the “liberal media” went on tours of small-town diners to connect with the white-working-class voters that had surprised them by turning out for Trump. Lots of liberals (me, for example), read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy in an attempt to understand. He wishes MAGA Republicans would do something similar now, but he doesn’t believe they will. He quotes historian Bernard Lewis:

The question, ‘Who did this to us?’ has led only to neurotic fantasies and conspiracy theories. The other question—‘What did we do wrong?’—has led naturally to a second question, ‘How do we put it right?’ In that question … lie[s] the best hope for the future.

and Twitter

It’s been stunning to watch how quickly Elon Musk has destroyed his reputation as a great businessman. The problem in a nutshell is that Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising, and most advertisers hate to have their ad next to hate speech. It’s just a bad association. So they got spooked when Musk described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and fired Twitter’s content-moderation people. That flight of advertisers tanked the company’s revenue, and now Musk is floating the possibility of bankruptcy.

One of the more interesting takes on this situation comes from Josh Marshall. Marshall’s TPM site used to be supported by advertising, but after years of trying to make an advertising model work he moved to a subscription model. (His Twitter article is behind his paywall, so I’ll quote liberally.)

Because of that, for upwards of fifteen years I had to deeply immerse myself not only in the advertising business generally but in the niche of advertising in political media. It was a huge part of my work for years and I had to understand it really, really well — because the existence of TPM depended on it. …

When I first got into advertising, TPM was hot. We had a big audience and it was pretty clear that it was just a matter of agreeing to sell this lucrative ad space. Our audience was educated, fairly well off. We would print money.

I soon realized it was quite a bit more complicated.

It’s not just that advertisers don’t want to be near hate speech or awful things. It goes way beyond that. They want to tell you about their brand when you’re in a good, comfortable, feel-good moment.

He points out that the Drudge Report had a huge audience for many years, but it never had high-quality advertisers, because it was “hot and contentious” and left its readers in an “agitated state”.

This aspect of the advertising business is actually a big, big reason for what we sometimes call “bothsides” journalism. This is often presented as an outmoded style of journalism. It’s really more a business model. In a politically polarized society advertisers are very, very cautious about giving any hint that they are taking sides in the great political or political factional controversies of the day.

So while it may look like Musk has gotten into the social media business, actually he has gotten into the advertising business, which he doesn’t understand.

He wants to be the world’s biggest troll, play to his new far-right/Trumpy fan base and have all the high dollar national brand advertisers flock to the platform he just wildly overpaid for. That was always an absurd proposition.

Wish I’d said this: “Buying Twitter is Musk’s invasion of Ukraine.” Guys who surround themselves with people who believe they are geniuses eventually start doing stupid things.

Wired explains how Twitter has become a “scammer’s paradise“.

and Ukraine

Ukrainian troops have taken Kherson, a key Black Sea port that the Russians occupied in the early days of the invasion. President Zelenskyy visited there today, and vowed that “We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories.”

I’m not an expert on Russian or Ukrainian culture, but I know that the folklore is full of heroes who confidently bluff and bluster. I remember Boris Yeltsin — backed by nobody in particular at the time — standing on a tank outside the Parliament building and announcing that he would see the leaders of the ongoing coup brought to justice. It worked.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast of imagery than Zelenskyy touring a front-line city versus Putin sitting alone at the end of his long table. One of them is a folk hero and the other isn’t. I have to think that the people of both countries see that.

Last week I linked to Masha Gessen’s warning in The New Yorker that Putin might really use nukes. Now Alexander Gabuev is saying something similar in The Atlantic.

and Trump’s legal situation

Getting past the midterms has reawakened speculation about when or whether Trump might be indicted for a variety of crimes. (DoJ policy discourages indictments that might influence an election.) The source I trust most here is Marcy Wheeler. She’s been following the investigations closely, but tries to avoid making sensational claims that she’ll have to walk back later.

An indictment of Trump is not going to happen today. In the stolen document case, that’s likely true because DOJ will first want to ensure access to the unclassified documents seized in August, something that won’t happen until either the 11th Circuit decision reverses Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master (that will be ripe for a hearing after November 17) or after a judgement from Special Master Raymond Dearie on December 16 that Cannon chooses to affirm. It’s not impossible, however, that DOJ will take significant actions before then — perhaps by arresting one or more of Trump’s suspected co-conspirators in hoarding the documents, or by executing warrants at other Trump properties to find the documents still believed to be missing.

The next most likely indictment to drop is in the fake-electors scheme, but Wheeler thinks there’s a layer of conspirators who will be indicted before Trump. Ditto for January 6. She isn’t sure what to predict about the Fulton County election-tampering investigation, which is still is fighting to get testimony from Lindsey Graham and a few other witnesses. (One objection I have to the media coverage of these battles: They’re being treated as if avoiding testifying is a normal thing to do, and few are drawing the obvious conclusion that Graham et al know things they don’t want investigators to know.)

Meanwhile, the lawyers who filed Trump’s massive (and quickly dismissed) lawsuit against everyone involved in starting the Trump/Russia investigation (i.e., Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, and 29 others) have been sanctioned by the judge in the case. He ordered them to pay $50K to the court and $16K in legal fees to Charles Dolan, the defendant who asked for sanctions. Such sanctions are warranted under the law when a lawsuit’s claims are “objectively frivolous” and “the person who signed the pleadings should have been aware they were frivolous”.

The judge’s order says:

Plaintiff deliberately misrepresented public documents by selectively using some portions while omitting other information including findings and conclusions that contradicted his narrative. This occurred with the Danchenko Indictment, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Report for Operation Hurricane, and the Mueller Report. It was too frequent to be accidental.

Every claim was frivolous, most barred by settled, well-established existing law. These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims. This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.

But the courts are not intended for performative litigation for purposes of fundraising and political statements.

Trump’s last-ditch attempt to avoid showing his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee is at the Supreme Court. The six partisan Republican justices could do their buddy a solid just by dragging their feet until Republicans take over the House (assuming they do) in January. I expect the Court to avoid this unsavory option and make an actual ruling, but it’s an open question.

Trump’s former chief of staff and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is the latest ex-official to describe attempted wrong-doing. He doesn’t have a book to sell, but …

Mr. Kelly said he chose to respond now because Mr. Trump had publicly claimed last week that he had used the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to help Gov. Ron DeSantis win election in Florida in 2018. Mr. Kelly, who was Mr. Trump’s chief of staff at the time, said Mr. Trump never made such a request. If he had, Mr. Kelly said, it would have been an improper use of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

(MSN fact-checked Trump’s statement and found “no evidence” to support it.) Kelly went on to describe other times when Trump wanted to misuse the IRS and other government agencies to help his friends or harm his enemies.

“I would say, ‘It’s inappropriate, it’s illegal, it’s against their integrity and the I.R.S. knows what it’s doing and it’s not a good idea,’” Mr. Kelly said he told Mr. Trump.

“Yeah, but they’re writing bad things about me,” Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump told him.

A spokesman for Trump denied the claims, calling Kelly “a psycho”.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence does have a book to sell, so he’s finally dishing on Trump. Trump’s “reckless” words on January 6, he says, “endangered me and my family”. Maybe he should have told the Senate that during the second impeachment trial.

and you also might be interested in …

A Trump-appointed judge has blocked Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program. This case will have to work its way through the system before anybody sees debt relief.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared Massachusetts school districts that dropped mask mandates to those that maintained them. Conclusion: masks work.

Among school districts in the greater Boston area, the lifting of masking requirements was associated with an additional 44.9 Covid-19 cases per 1000 students and staff during the 15 weeks after the statewide masking policy was rescinded.

Two more raped minors have had to leave Ohio to get abortions.

Remember that billion dollars Alex Jones is supposed to pay to the Sandy Hook parents? That was just the actual damages. A judge has added another $473 million of punitive damages.

Dean Baker points out something important: In the early years of the 21st century, health-care spending as a percentage of GDP was headed inexorably upward. That seemingly unstoppable trend caused economists to make a lot of ominous projections. But instead health-care inflation moderated, and the percent of GDP spent on healthcare is now below where it was in 2014, when ObamaCare was implemented.

This is an example of how good government is hard to campaign on. Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, and then got clobbered in the 2010 midterms, largely because Republicans were able to raise so many fears about “death panels“, rationing, and all sorts of other things ObamaCare supposedly included.

So here’s to all the Democrats in Congress who lost their seats in 2010 because they did the right thing. The purpose of having power should be to use it well, not to hang onto it.

Friday wasn’t just Veterans’ Day, it was also Kurt Vonnegut’s 100th birthday. I recently passed through Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s home town, and went to the Vonnegut museum there. I particularly enjoyed reading Vonnegut’s rejection letters from publishers, which are framed and hung on the wall.

and let’s close with something powerful

Like a fleet of snowplows. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation started a contest to name new snowplows. Predictably, the big winner was Plowy McPlowface.

But now that the obvious name is out of the way, things have gotten more interesting. The next generation of plows named by the public display much more creativity.

Runner-up names are also listed. My favorite is Sled Zeppelin.

Notes on the midterm elections

Saturday night, when Nevada had counted enough votes to declare Catherine Cortez Masto re-elected, we learned that the Democrats would hold onto the Senate. They may even gain a seat, if Raphael Warnock can win the December 6 run-off in Georgia.

As of this morning, almost a week after election day, Republicans are leading in the House, but still have not nailed down a majority. 212 races have been called for Republican candidates, 204 for Democrats. 218 are needed for a majority. NBC is estimating that when all the counting is complete, the GOP will have a slim 219-216 majority. (So assuming Lauren Boebert hangs on to her current slim lead, Speaker McCarthy will lose any vote in which he can’t get Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Green’s support.)

In the states, Florida went very red, but both Michigan and Minnesota very blue. Democrats flipped governorships in Massachusetts and Maryland, Republicans in Nevada. Arizona is still undecided.

There’s probably a lot to learn from these results that I haven’t deciphered yet. But here are a few conclusions that seem obvious.

Voters in swing states don’t believe the Big Lie about 2020, and want to continue having democratic elections. My biggest fear about the midterms was that they would herald the end of democratic elections in the United States. But that didn’t happen. Yesterday, the NYT’s home page included the headline “Every election denier who sought to become the top election official in a critical battleground state lost at the polls“.

During the 2020 election, it was secretaries of state — both Democrats and Republicans — who stood up to efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn the results. State election officials certified vote tallies over Republican objections, protected election workers from aggressive partisan poll watchers and, in at least one case, refused a personal entreaty from the president.

The next spring, several candidates pushing the false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen announced their intention to run to be the top election officials in critical states.

Republican candidates for secretary of state in places like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico claimed the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump, without basing that belief on the slightest bit of evidence. In Pennsylvania the secretary of state is appointed by the governor, and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was running as a rabid election denier (in addition to being a Christian nationalist and a barely-in-the-closet antisemite). In Georgia, incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger had beaten back an election-denier challenge in the primary.

Victories by election-denying candidates would have opened the possibility that in 2024, MAGA secretaries of state might refuse to recognize a Democrat’s victory. If they needed no evidence beyond Trump’s say-so to declare fraud in 2020, why wouldn’t they do the same in 2024?

Fortunately, all those candidates lost. Some of the races were disturbingly close — though Mastriano got soundly thrashed — but they lost. Only Indiana chose an election-denying secretary of state. That could be a problem locally, but it’s unlikely to affect a national election, since a Democratic presidential candidate could only carry Indiana in a national landslide. (Barack Obama barely did in 2008.)

Sweeping abortion bans are unpopular. A lot of Americans have conflicted views about abortion, so the wording of a proposal matters. But if you put a broad abortion ban in front of the voters, they’ll reject it even in some pretty conservative states.

We saw that already in August, when Kansas (which Trump carried 56%-42% in 2020) held a referendum that would have given the legislature the power to ban abortion. (The state’s supreme court had found a Roe-like right to abortion in the state’s constitution. This proposed amendment would have removed that right.) The legislature scheduled the vote to coincide with a primary election that was likely to draw more Republicans than Democrats, but it didn’t matter: Turnout was huge and the proposal failed 59%-41%.

Tuesday, proposals to protect reproductive rights were on the ballot in Vermont, California, and Michigan, while voters had a chance to restrict abortion rights in Kentucky and Montana. The pro-choice side won all five.

The abortion issue is also getting credit for the Democrats avoiding the typical midterm-election-collapse of a party in power. It’s hard to say precisely why voters decide to show up and lean one way or another, but the turnout of young voters was high and heavily Democratic, and Democrats won 68%-31% among single women. Chances are that abortion had something to do with that.

[BTW, it has been hilarious to watch conservative pundits struggle not to grasp that single women don’t want the Republic of Gilead controlling their bodies and making major life decisions for them. Fox News’ Jesse Watters noted that married women tend to vote Republican, so he had a solution: “We need these ladies to get married. And it’s time to fall in love and just settle down. Guys, go put a ring on it.” One America News’ Addison Smith went even further down the patriarchal rabbit hole: “Secular progressivism has turned people into masochists. … 68% of single women voted for people who vowed to let them legally murder their children and continue on living miserable single lives without purpose, without responsibility or meaning.” Attention single women: After a quick search, I wasn’t able to determine whether Addison Smith is married, so he might still be available to bring purpose and meaning to your otherwise pointless life.]

Trump is hurting the Republican Party. He wasn’t losing any races himself this time, but he screwed up the GOP in two other ways. First, the unqualified and too extreme candidates he pushed to victory in the Republican primaries went on to lose winnable elections.

New Hampshire is a good example. Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who kept his distance from Trump, cruised to a 57%-42% victory. But Trump-endorsed election-denying Don Bolduc lost to incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan 54%-44%. Those two results are from the same voters on the same day, so about 1 NH voter in 8 must have voted a Sununu/Hassan split ticket.

Similarly in Georgia, Brian Kemp (who defeated a Trumpist challenger in the GOP primary after certifying Biden’s 2020 victory) won the governorship 53%-46%, while Trump’s handpicked senate candidate Herschel Walker faces a run-off after trailing 49%-48% Tuesday.

The second way Trump undercut the GOP was to divert attention towards himself, his petty grievances, and his backward-looking complaints about 2020, and away from issues like inflation that were working for Republicans. He doesn’t seem to realize that if the 2020 election were run again, he would get his butt kicked again. Most unpopular presidents see their images improve in hindsight, but not Trump. 54% of the public still views him unfavorably.

Conservative power brokers like Rupert Murdoch and mainstream Republican politicians like Paul Ryan see what’s going on and would like to free the party from Trump’s destructive influence, but I’m betting against them. There’s a lot of Trump-blaming in conservative media right now, but that just means it’s January 7 again. Before long, the would-be rebels will be crawling to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring, as they did only weeks after January 6. The NYT’s Jamelle Bouie agrees with me:

The idea that Republican elites could simply swap Trump for another candidate without incurring any serious damage rests on two assumptions: First, that Trump’s supporters are more committed to the Republican Party than they are to him, and second, that Trump himself will give up the fight if he isn’t able to win the party’s nomination.

I think these assumptions show a fundamental misunderstanding of the world Republican elites brought into being when they finally bent the knee to Trump in the summer and fall of 2016.

But Jonathan Chait disagrees. It’s different this time, he says, because Ron DeSantis provides a real alternative.

Either way, it’s going to be ugly. Trump has already shown that he will try to burn down a democracy that won’t re-elect him. No one should be surprised if he burns down a party that won’t re-nominate him.

Gerrymandering matters. For years, voters in Michigan have voted for Democratic candidates for the legislature, only to see Republicans keep control. But in 2018, Michigan voters reestablished democracy in their state by overwhelmingly passing Proposal 2, which created a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Tuesday was the first election held under the new nonpartisan maps, and Democrats won majorities in both houses for the first time in almost 40 years.

Compare Michigan to Wisconsin, which is still heavily gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor. Democratic Governor Tony Evers was re-elected with 51% of the vote, and Republican Senator Ron Johnson was re-elected with just over 50%, suggesting an evenly divided electorate. But Democrats narrowly avoided a veto-proof Republican supermajority in both houses of the legislature, which would have made Governor Evers virtually powerless.

Both parties gerrymander when they can, because it’s political suicide to let the other side play by different rules. (Though no Democratic-controlled state mirrors Michigan, with an entrenched Democratic legislature thwarting a Republican majority in the electorate.) But Democrats want to end this game: An anti-gerrymandering provision was part of the For the People Act, which has passed the House in 2019, 2020, and 2021, only to be blocked by Republican filibusters in the Senate. A scaled-down proposal, the Freedom to Vote Act, was put together by Senators Manchin and Klobuchar. But it also was blocked by a filibuster.

The stuff Biden did is way more popular than Biden himself. The pundits predicting a red wave were fooled by Biden’s low approval rating: 41.5% in the latest 538 average, barely higher than Trump’s 39.9%. Normally, a president with numbers like that sees his party get clobbered in the midterm elections.

But Friday, Chris Hayes made an interesting comparison to 2010, when there really was a red wave. In 2010, the Democratic Congress had just passed ObamaCare, and it was very unpopular. (Since it hadn’t taken effect yet, Republicans could claim anything they wanted about it, and they did.) The way Republicans ran against Democratic incumbents that year was simply to point to that vote.

Nothing in this cycle played that same role of connecting Biden’s unpopularity to specific votes in Congress. If Democrats got criticized for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act, they could say, “Yes, I lowered your prescription drug costs, invested in renewable energy, and created jobs for American workers.” The bipartisan infrastructure bill? “Yes, I voted to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, bring broadband internet to rural areas, and replace lead water pipes that have been poisoning our children.” American Rescue Plan? “I voted to get Americans vaccinated, send money to people who couldn’t work during the pandemic, and give loans to businesses so they wouldn’t have to fire people.”

And so on.

So sure, Americans are frustrated with inflation, and Republicans were able to fan people’s fears about rising crime and a few other issues. But how could challengers pin those problems on the incumbent senators or representatives they were trying to replace? And while 2010 Republicans could promise to repeal ObamaCare, what exactly were 2022 Republicans proposing to do about inflation, crime, or anything else?

Polls are more-or-less accurate if you don’t expect too much out of them. I’ve seen a lot of the-polls-were-wrong-again punditry, but I don’t think it’s deserved.

Take the Georgia Senate race, for example. 538’s final pre-election analysis said that Herschel Walker had a 63% chance of winning, with a predicted margin of 1.2%. But now that the votes have been counted, Warnock holds a .9% lead. (Warnock is still short of 50%, so a run-off is happening December 6.)

So Nate Silver’s prediction was off by 2.1%. You can’t really expect pre-election polling to be more accurate than that.

At best, a poll is a snapshot of where the electorate was a day or two before the election, accurate to within some margin of error. Averaging a bunch of polls (as 538 does) should shrink that margin, but not to zero. And as for people who decide at the last minute to vote (or not vote), or who change their minds in the booth — there’s really no accounting for them.

In short, the right response to the Georgia outcome is not “538 was wrong to say Walker would get more votes, because Warnock did”, but “538 said the race was going to be close and it was.”

That’s why the model said “63% chance”. Just for reference, NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently hitting 65% of his free throws (well below the league average of around 78%). That’s better than a coin flip, but when he steps to the line, Bucks fans are holding their breath rather than counting the points.

Is a more accurate system possible? Well, maybe, but you won’t like it. I suspect that somewhere in the basement of Meta headquarters, somebody has developed an algorithm that predicts how each of Facebook’s tens of millions of users will vote. (For most of us, it wouldn’t be that hard.) Facebook users may not be absolutely typical of the electorate, but the differences are probably not difficult to model and compensate for after you review the data from a few election cycles. And on election day, if the app on your phone is tracking your location, it knows whether you went to the polls.

Facebook’s huge sample base would eliminate nearly all the statistical error. Since it’s a spying algorithm rather than a request for information, you couldn’t just refuse to answer, eliminating another source of polling error. And in order to lie to the algorithm, you’d have to change your whole online behavior, which hardly anybody is going to do. The algorithm’s estimates would always be up to the minute, and in the end it would know a lot about who voted.

I’ll bet that system could be pretty accurate.

Expert speculation, on the other hand, isn’t worth the attention it gets. All that talk of a “red wave” didn’t come from the polls. 538’s generic-ballot polling average finished with a Republican advantage of 1.2%, which would lead a person to expect a Republican Congress, but not a sweeping rejection of Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats. (Compare that margin to true wave elections: In 2010, Republican House candidates got 6.8% more votes than Democratic candidates. In 2018, Democrats did 8.6% better than Republicans.)

The red-wave speculation came from pundits, both too-optimistic Republicans and too-pessimistic Democrats.

The right lesson to draw is that we spend way too much time listening to people speculate about stuff they don’t really know. Psychologically, it’s understandable: We get anxious leading up to an election or some other big event, so we want to believe that someone can tell us what’s going to happen. Even hearing that things are going to go badly can be more comforting than facing life’s real uncertainty.

It’s also understandable from the networks’ point of view: Actual reporting is hard and can be expensive, but gathering a panel of talking heads in the studio is easy and cheap. (A lot of them have a book to sell, a candidate to push, or some other reason they want to be on your show. So you may not have to pay them at all.) By air time, an investigative reporter may or may not have cracked whatever story she/he/they has been working on, but a pundit can be guaranteed to have a speculation ready on demand.

Unfortunately, those speculations aren’t worth much. If listening to them makes you feel better, fine. But don’t kid yourself that you’re receiving valuable information. Life really is terrifyingly uncertain.

So in the end, I wind up agreeing with the conclusion of the editorial I linked to about the polls being wrong again, if you change “study polls” to “try to prognosticate”:

Voters would do well to study the issues more than they [try to prognosticate], and media would do well to provide valuable issue-oriented reporting instead of reporting on a horse race that can change minute to minute.

[BTW: If political predictions were intended to be accurate, networks would keep detailed statistics on which pundits were right or wrong, and there would be bidding wars over the ones with the best records. That doesn’t happen, does it? The red-wave predictors aren’t going to lose their jobs, and somebody who got it right isn’t going to suddenly vault to the top of the profession the way a market-beating hedge-fund manager would.]

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last week, I told you I was planning not to watch the election returns Tuesday night. I thought it would be hard, that I’d be jumpy like an addict needing a fix, and that every couple hours I would lose my resolve and check how things were going.

It wasn’t like that at all. I felt oddly serene in my news-free bubble, and went to bed with no idea what was happening. In the morning, I puttered for an hour or two to extend the sense of peace. But I knew that eventually I’d have to distort my life to avoid finding out how things were going, so I checked. Surprise! No red wave.

After nearly a week, we still don’t know which party will control the House or who the governor of Arizona will be. But we’ve learned a few things, and I’ll cherry-pick the most obvious in the featured post, which I’m calling “Notes on the midterm elections”. That should be out shortly.

The weekly summary also covers the unfolding disaster at Twitter, the Ukrainians recapturing Kherson, where the Trump investigations might go now that the pre-election pause is over, and a few other things before closing with an introduction to Minnesota’s new snowplows. I’ll aim to get that out before noon EST.