News War

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear December 19.

If the president of the United States declares war on journalism, journalists are not obliged to just record his words and publish them. They are obliged to take a side – the side of freedom.

– Dan Gillmor, “Trump, Free Speech, and Why Journalists Must Be Activists
November, 2016

This week’s featured posts are “Fake news is like Jessica Rabbit” and “No facts? What does that mean?

I’m cancelling the December 12 Sift because I’m traveling this week. If you’re anywhere near Palo Alto this Sunday, I’ll be speaking at the UU church there at 9:30 and 11 on the topic “Season of Darkness, Season of Hope”. It’s about how the symbolism of the Winter Solstice might apply to our dark political times.

This week everybody was talking about China

One of the scary things about Donald Trump as president is that when he causes an international incident, everybody’s first thought is “Did he mean to do that?” Because it’s entirely plausible that he just didn’t think about it; he so often appears not to think about the consequences of what he does.

This time, though, in spite of Trump and numerous spokespeople portraying his phone conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen as no big deal, it looks like it really was an attempt to begin his relationship with China with a shot across the bow. He followed up Sunday with a pair of aggressive tweets:

Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!

Actually the U.S. does tax Chinese imports, but since there are no facts anymore, who cares?

The WaPo summarizes why the call was such a big deal to the Chinese. Vox has a general exploration of Trump’s foreign policy.

and those manufacturing jobs at Carrier

One of the interesting things to watch in the early days of the Trump administration will be which conservatives stick to their previous principles, and which ones think it’s fine for Trump to do things they would have condemned Obama for.

In a nutshell, the deal Trump and Pence worked out to keep some Carrier jobs in Indiana while letting others move to Mexico is not at all the kind of thing he was describing during the campaign, and also counter to the usual Republican free-market principles.

During the campaign, Trump specifically called out Carrier’s plan to close a plant in Indianapolis and open one in Mexico. He made it sound like he would get tough with businesses like that, threatening them with tariffs until they knuckled under. Well, that’s not at all what happened. Carrier got at least $7 million in Indiana tax breaks. (Pence is still governor, remember?) Plus, who knows what else its parent company, United Technologies, was promised in terms of its defense businesses? In exchange, they agreed not to move as many jobs as they had planned, at least not right away.

Bernie Sanders wrote that the people whose jobs were saved should be happy, but “the rest of our nation’s workers should be very nervous.” In essence, the deal establishes that corporations can extort goodies from Trump by threatening to move.

Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America.

OK, you didn’t really expect Bernie to side with Trump. But a number of conservatives also raised their voices against the deal, for a different reason: It’s exactly the kind of “industrial policy” they hate when Democrats try it. Sarah Palin called it “crony capitalism“.  National Review called it “a rejection of economic reality“.

and the PizzaGate shooting

I had the bad timing to write a somewhat whimsical piece about fake news at the same time that fake news was having a serious consequence: A guy armed with an assault rifle walked into a D.C. pizza place and started shooting, because he was “investigating” a fake-news story that “Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms”. Because that’s so incredibly plausible, I guess.


A sidebar on that story: So a guy believes a ridiculous piece of fake news, takes an assault rifle into a crowded restaurant and fires. Police take him into custody without finding it necessary to kill him first.

He’s white, right? How did I know?

and Trump’s cabinet picks

More announcements from the High Castle (a.k.a. Trump Tower).

Mattis at Defense. I can’t decide whether to be glass-half-empty or glass-half-full about General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. On the downside, it’s never good to have a SecDef whose nickname is “Mad Dog”. That Trump compares him to General Patton (from World War II, or maybe from the George C. Scott movie) also makes me uneasy: Patton was a tactical genius who was also a political and interpersonal loose cannon. He did well for us in World War II largely because wise, unflappable men like Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall stood between him and the president, who was the masterful Franklin Roosevelt. Show me anybody in the Trump administration like those guys, and I’ll feel a lot better about having another Patton.

On the upside, he is a real general who actually knows something about military affairs. He didn’t just play a general on TV or give a bunch of defense-related speeches or something. People who know their fields are rarities in the Trump cabinet, so I don’t want to complain too much. Also, he apparently told Trump that torture doesn’t work very well, and he wants to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, so he gets credit for that.

On the downside, he pairs with National Security Advisor (and former General) Michael Flynn to virtually eliminate civilian oversight of the military. (A third general is rumored to be Trump’s choice to head Homeland Security.) By law, a general has be out of the military for seven years before taking the SecDef job, a provision that Congress would have to waive for Mattis. That opens his nomination to filibuster.

Mnuchin at Treasury. I’m trying to imagine the response if President Hillary Clinton had nominated a hedge-fund founder and former Goldman Sachs partner, who made billions off the housing crisis. Way to drain the swamp, dude.

and the protesters won one

The Army announced that it won’t allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under a dammed section of the Missouri River. Alternate routes are being explored.

and the ongoing corruption issue

The NYT illustrates the problems in a series of circular diagrams that include both government agencies and Trump business interests. The gist is that Trump will frequently be in the position of deciding as president whether he should make more or less money.


Trump’s business empire, and its dealings in foreign countries and with foreign governments, seems to set up clear violations of the Emoluments Clause, a part of the Constitution that you never hear about because no president previously thought he could get away with violating it:

So, for example, any loan the Trump Organization gets from the Bank of China would need to be examined to make sure its terms aren’t more favorable than it might have gotten if Donald Trump weren’t president. Otherwise the deal might include a  gift, which the Clause bans. Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House, elaborates:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses.

However, think about how to enforce this, if Congress decides to let it slide. Conceivably a court could step in, but courts can’t just take something up because it sounds wrong. Someone has to come to court claiming to have suffered an injury that the court has the power to correct. (That’s what’s meant by the legal term standing. You have to have standing before you can sue.)

Who could do that? Maybe a competing business that suffers from foreign-government favoritism towards the Trump Organization? Law professor Jonathan H. Adler doesn’t even offer that possibility:

the underlying controversy is almost certainly non-justiciable. It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which someone would have standing to challenge Trump’s arrangements, and even harder to think what sort of remedy could be ordered by a court.

And Painter agrees:

The only remedy for a serious violation of the Emoluments Clause is impeachment.

and you might also be interested in

As absentee and provisional ballots get counted in various states, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the national popular vote continues to grow: currently more than 2.6 million votes, or 2%.

One thing this means is that the polls were not actually that far off. Going into election day, most pollsters were called for a 3-4% margin. She also did not run much behind Obama’s 2012 pace, when he won by 3.9%.


Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin are putting together a bipartisan effort to protect the DREAMers from deportation. We’ll see if Graham is by himself on this, or if a few other Republicans (Flake? McCain?) are willing to join. I have a hard time picturing the House backing this, but that’s a battle I really want the public to see. The DREAMers are the most sympathetic of the undocumented immigrants, because they broke no laws and most of them know no other country than the United States. If we can’t find a place for them, America really has become a hard-hearted country.


A good description of one of the big problems our democracy is facing: “Conservative media needs a scared, paranoid audience, while democracy needs reasonable voters.”


Not sure why Trump tweeted about flag-burning. I haven’t heard of anybody doing it lately; maybe he’s just anticipating that somebody will. Anyway, it’s a pretty clear First Amendment issue: The reason people object to it is that burning a flag expresses an opinion they don’t like. Nobody objects if you burn a flag that is worn out; that’s actually the preferred method of disposal. Nobody cares if you have flags on your 4th of July napkins and then throw them in the campfire. The only time people object to burning a flag is if you’re doing it to make a point.

In religious terms, laws to protect the flag from burning constitute idolatry: The symbol has been elevated above the thing it’s supposed to symbolize. The flag symbolizes our American freedom, but idolators want to protect the flag at the expense of our freedom.

and let’s close with a sex video

A very tiny one, that is. Science Alert provides video of tardigrade (a.k.a. water bear) mating, and even explains what’s kinky about it.

fertilisation actually occurs outside the female’s body – although the researchers still aren’t entirely sure how the semen gets to her eggs.

Presumably that will be in Tardigrade Mating II.

No facts? What does that mean?

Since Wednesday, you have undoubtedly seen several headlines about some Trump surrogate denying the existence of facts. It’s from Scottie Nell Hughes talking to NPR host Diane Rehm, and the money quote is: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts,” Sometimes condensed to “There are no facts”, that quote exploded across the internet in the same way that many fake news headlines do. But it had the added virtue of being true (to the extent that there is such a thing as truth any more).

But what does it mean?

If you make Hughes’ sentence stand alone, the most obvious interpretation is some kind of New Age you-make-your-own-reality philosophy. But I’m pretty sure that isn’t what she meant. For example, there are 2.6 million more Hillary voters than Trump voters, but even if we all get together on January 20 and visualize really hard, we won’t be transported to a world where President Clinton is being sworn in. Reality just isn’t that flexible, and I don’t believe Hughes was claiming otherwise.

So what was she saying? Let’s expand the context a little.

One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say “facts are facts”, they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way, it’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts. And so Mr. Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some facts—amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there are no facts to back it up.

I’m hearing a less metaphysical claim, which I’ll restate like this: You can’t win a political argument any more by claiming to have the facts on your side, because the other side can generate its own apparent “facts”, and the public as a whole doesn’t trust anyone to decide between the two sets of “facts”. So in the end, all that matters politically is who you like: If you like Trump, you’ll believe his “facts” and if you don’t, you’ll believe the “facts” that contradict him. Worse, no one can set himself up as a neutral fact-checker, because as soon as he decides the case one way or the other, his presumption of neutrality goes away: All the public will hear is that he likes Trump or he doesn’t.

So when The Atlantic‘s James Fallows (who was on the same episode of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show as Hughes) listed a series of Trump lies, Hughes responded that the sources Fallows was relying on were all biased against Trump. Fallows immediately zeroed in on a Trump claim that the NFL had written to him about something, to which the NFL had responded by denying writing any letter to him at all. “The NFL?” Fallows challenged. “The NFL is biased?” And Hughes responded: “That’s the question you have to ask right now.”

So that’s Hughes’ not-quite-a-syllogism: What Trump asserts is true. People biased against Trump will say otherwise. Therefore anyone who says otherwise is biased against Trump. (Compare Woody Allen’s reasoning in Love and Death: “A. Socrates is a man. B. All men are mortal. C. All men are Socrates.”)

The interesting thing, if you listen to the rest of the episode, is that the other guests — Fallows, Glenn Thrush from Politico, and Margaret Sullivan from The Washington Post — are pretty much saying the same thing in terms less quotable than “There’s no such thing as facts.” Fallows begins the show by describing the old state of affairs as

a sort of built in constraint of most public figures, that they would at least try to tell the truth most of the time and they would recognize it as a significant penalty if they’re shown not telling the truth.

And then pointing out how this has changed:

This does not apply in the same way to Donald Trump and therefore, we sort of need to recalibrate our gears to say, how do we treat assertions where the speaker himself doesn’t seem to care whether they can be proven false five minutes later, just goes on and doesn’t show any affect from that.

One perverse result of this is that Trump has gotten a reputation among his fans as “telling it like it is”. In other words, we are used to politicians spinning; they speak in elaborately constructed sentences so that they can give a misleading impression without saying anything provably false. But Trump doesn’t spin. He speaks in very direct sentences because he just doesn’t care whether he’s saying something provably false. If he wants to give you the impression that millions of people voted illegally (when they really didn’t), he’ll just say that.

I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.

In the same way that “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue“, spinning is the homage liars pay to truth. Bill Clinton’s famous “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” was his attempt to recognize established facts, but still carve out some tiny sliver of interpretation in which he hadn’t been lying when he claimed nothing was going on with Monica Lewinsky.

It sounded weaselly. How much bolder and telling-it-like-it-is Clinton would have sounded if he had just kept saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He could have claimed that the lab that analyzed Lewinsky’s semen-stained dress was biased against him, and DNA testing is junk science anyway. Surely some “experts” could have been manufactured to go on TV and make that argument.

He didn’t do that, because sounding weaselly was a “significant penalty” Clinton was willing to pay in order to live in a world of facts. But Trump has declared his independence from the world of facts, so he never has to sound weaselly. If more than a dozen women accuse him of groping and other sexual assaults similar to his bragging claims, they’re liars and he’s going to sue them. (He hasn’t sued any of them, and he won’t.) If Trump University students claim he defrauded them and the instructor’s manual backs them up, he looks forward to refuting their baseless case in court. (He settled right after the election, paying the students $25 million.)

No spin. Just bold, direct statements that aren’t true. He hasn’t paid a political penalty for those false statements, because his supporters have neither the inclination nor the attention span to check up on him, and they don’t trust anybody who does.

If that’s not disturbing enough for you, there’s a way things could turn worse from here. An Elliott Lusztig tweetstorm explained how:

Hannah Arendt in her book The Origin of Totalitarianism provides a helpful guide for interpreting the language of fascists. She noted how decent liberals of 1930s Germany would “fact check” the Nazis’ bizarre claims about Jews like they were meant to be factual. What they failed to understand, Arendt suggests, is that the Nazi Jew hating was not a statement of fact but a declaration of intent.

So when someone would blame the Jews for Germany’s defeat in [World War I], naive people would counter by saying there’s no evidence of that. What the Nazis were doing was not describing what was true, but what would have to be true to justify what they planned to do next.

Did 3 million “illegals” cast votes in this election? Clearly not. But fact checking is just a way of playing along with their game. What Trump is saying is not that 3m illegals voted. What he’s saying is: I’m going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans.

It’s not hard to see how this might apply to other Trump lies. For example, his claim that the murder rate is the “highest it’s been in 45 years“, when in fact it’s close to a low for that period. Combine that with his characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and “Islam hates us“, and and you get a justification for a harsh police crackdown on those communities.

What Lusztig is pointing out here is how this kind of widespread lying can turn partisanship into horror: People accept claims as factual for partisan reasons, and then later can be moved to draw consequences from those false claims. Those consequences might include horrible actions that those same people would have rejected had they been proposed directly.

It’s hard to see what to do about this, but it has to start with identifying the advantages reality has over falsehood. Obviously, reality also has many disadvantages, but its advantages include that it is persistent, self-consistent, and infinitely detailed.

Fantastic lies depend on an ability to constantly change the subject, so that the thinness of the fantasy world can’t be compared to the richness of reality. When a topic becomes so important that it stays in the public mind for long periods of time — the Iraq War is a good example — it becomes harder to lie about. The closer a topic impinges on the everyday experiences of large numbers of people, the harder it is to lie about. And finally, anything a person cares deeply about can become a conduit to reality. For example, many otherwise conservative churches have made a project out of helping refugees resettle in America. Their commitment to those projects makes it harder to sell them horror stories about the refugee threat.

This is another example of a larger theme: The Trump administration is going to force us to think seriously about things we used to take for granted. (That’s why I wrote about white pride last week.)

For a long time, many of us have taken for granted that facts are facts, truth ultimately wins out, and lies eventually rebound against the liars. Those principles may still hold, but they’re not in the “of course” category any more. We’re going to have to study more closely exactly what strategic advantages reality offers, and figure out tactics that bring those advantages into play.

Fake news is like Jessica Rabbit

Designed to appeal, without regard to the boring constraints of reality


Have you ever thought about what makes a female cartoon or comic-book character sexy? (I know, I know: sexy animated character and thinking don’t go together. But bear with me on this; I’m going somewhere.) Wonder Woman? Holli Would? Storm of the X-Men?

We can eliminate one factor immediately: realism. Those balloon-like breasts, pencil-thin waists, enormous eyes … I mean, it’s not like anyone has actually had sex with such a woman and come back to tell us how great it was. Real-life movie stars are the kind of people you are unlikely to meet, but the animated characters are outright impossible. 

Hot male comic-book characters — Batman, say, or Thor — are impossible in different ways, with shoulders the size of truck bumpers and jaws drawn with a T-square. As with the women, no one has ever reported back from a date with such a guy, because there are no such guys. So why do with think we know anything about them as lovers?

Obviously, I’m being intentionally obtuse here. Sexual attraction doesn’t work that way. It has very little to do with experience, either our own or anybody else’s. Attraction is based on fantasy rather than reality, and the building blocks of those fantasies have been programmed into us at some very deep level. A lot of it is cultural, and some of it probably even goes back into biology: A stone-age man attracted to perky breasts would be more likely to pursue women of child-bearing age, rather than those who were too old or too young. A broad-shouldered man was probably going to swing a mean club when the wolves come looking for your babies.

But here’s the thing: That programming isn’t complex enough to be subtle. It just pushes you in a direction; it doesn’t tell you how far to go. At some point in evolutionary history, peahens got it into their heads that big peacock tails were sexy. Fast-forward a few thousand generations, and the guys have these ridiculous appendages that interfere with flight and make it nearly impossible to hide from predators. Nowhere in the peabrain programming language is there a command for “That’s enough already.”

It’s the same for us. If the kind of breast development that differentiates child-bearing women from immature girls is good, then ridiculously impossible balloon-breasts are that much better. And so on. Batman and Jessica Rabbit are sexy because they are extreme; they’ve been designed to appeal to our biological/cultural programming without needing to satisfy the constraints reality imposes.

So what’s any of that got to do with news, fake or otherwise?

We may like to think that we pay attention to the news for all kinds of virtuous reasons: It makes us better citizens, we are intellectually curious about our world, and stuff like that. And there are a few ultra-serious news sources that take us at our word, like The Economist or PBS Newshour. In terms of sexiness, the stories you read or watch there are like the people your mother tries to fix you up with: very practical marriage partners and good bets to produce grandchildren Mom could be proud of. But they usually don’t give your lizard brain much to work with.

The reason ultra-serious news doesn’t dominate the market is that we also are interested in news stories for a lot of other reasons: They give us something impressive to tell our friends, they provoke an energizing rush of anger at our enemies, or they prove that we were right all along about something.

That’s why, throughout human history, tales have always grown in the telling. If I tell you that I caught a bigger fish today than I usually do, you might mention it to somebody else if they happen to be talking about fish. But if I caught the biggest fish anybody has ever seen, and I embroider that story with all kinds of remarkable details, then you certainly will retell it. If the truth is that the new parson and the blacksmith’s daughter exchanged what looked like a meaningful glance, that’s kind of interesting. But if the story grows to where they were caught half-naked in the woods, that news will spread all over the county.

Journalists at more ratings-conscious news outlets — CNN, say — have to take more account of those less virtuous factors, so they are constantly repackaging real events to make them compelling. They pick out whatever is remarkable or stunning or infuriating and feed it to us as a concentrate, like the one zinger out of an hour-long speech. The stories they produce are like Kate Upton or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: They appeal to the inner programming that tells us what is interesting, while continuing to respect the constraints of reality. And if a detail gets fudged here or there — think Fox News — it’s like airbrushing or make-up: still real, more or less, just enhanced a little.

But fake news can be Jessica Rabbit. It’s designed to appeal, without regard to reality. And it works.

Did you hear that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump? (He didn’t.) Or that an FBI agent investigating Clinton died in a suspicious murder-suicide? (Untrue.) Or that Mike Pence credits gay conversion therapy with saving his marriage? (Nope.)

I don’t know about you, but when I saw that Pence headline, my first reaction was: “I knew it!” That’s what fake news is designed to evoke.

Real news, especially if it’s told accurately, almost never does that. Real events nearly always include some mitigating detail that disrupts our comic-book reaction of triumph or fear or anger. Even the worst stories about the public figures we dislike usually just show them to be common assholes rather than Dr. Doom style villains. Real reporting nearly always leaves room for doubt; there’s stuff we still don’t know that might change the conclusion.

Real news stories, in other words, are like the real people you might meet for lunch: interesting in some ways but not others, maybe worth spending more time with in the future, but not all like Thor.

In other areas of life, we eventually get good at recognizing the fantasies people construct to manipulate us, appealing as they might be: that Nigerian prince who wants to give you a pile of money in exchange for an insignificant amount of help; the titanium designer watch you can buy on a street corner for twenty bucks; the celebrity you can see naked if you just open this attachment. We’re onto that stuff now. Some offers are just too good to be true; learning to accept that they almost certainly aren’t true is part of growing up.

Fake news that goes viral on social media, that you hear about because it’s already been shared by somebody you know — that’s new enough that most of us don’t have a too-good-to-be-true filter yet. But that 100% pure news satisfaction feeling, that “I knew it!” or “Those bastards!” or “Everybody needs to hear about this!”, it’s too good to be true. It’s a sign of fakery and manipulation, not a ring of truth.

I’m not saying you need to give up your news fantasy life; just respect the line that separates it from reality. Similarly, you can, if you want, go on fantasizing about Storm or Thor or even Jessica Rabbit. There’s no harm in it. But if you come home from lunch believing that you’ve met one of them, you need to think again.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The theme of fake news and propaganda was up for me this week, so there will be two featured posts today, each looking at a different aspect of that theme. The first one is short and (I hope) amusing: “Fake news is like Jessica Rabbit”. It makes an analogy between how news stories and movie characters raise our interest, and points out that getting a response is easier when the reporters/animators aren’t required to worry about the boring constraints of reality. It gets around to arguing that we need to develop a too-good-to-be-true reflex for headlines we see on social media, similar to the reflex mature people have in other areas of their lives.

That’s just about done and should be out shortly.

The second responds to a story this week that sounded like fake news, but was actually real: The Trump surrogate who said, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.” It seems really unlikely that she meant that literally, but what did she mean? And what does that tell us about how we should be listening to what Trump says? That post will be called “No facts? What does that mean?”

I’m less certain when that will be done. Maybe around 10 EST.

The weekly summary will discuss Trump’s bizarre call to Taiwan, the deal to reward Carrier for sending fewer jobs to Mexico, more cabinet picks, the continuing issue of how Trump’s opportunities for private profit will affect his public policy, why anti-flag-burning laws constitute idolatry, and a few other things. I’m hoping to have that out by noon.

America Was

America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance. And it belongs to us.

– Richard Spencer, “Long Live the Emperor!” (11-21-2016)

This week’s featured post is “Should I Have White Pride?

This week everybody was talking about more cabinet picks

This batch was discouraging in a new way. Last week’s appointments were all from the Trump campaign’s inner circle, suggesting that he was looking for loyalty rather than competence. They were also all white men. This week’s appointments — Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Ben Carson at HUD (apparently; there’s been no formal announcement yet), and Betsy DeVos as Education secretary — included women and non-whites, but also suggested that knowledge and experience were not high values.

Not to dis Nikki Haley; she’s the up-and-coming Republican governor of South Carolina who (like Reince Preibus) might have shown up somewhere in a Bush or Rubio administration. But not at the UN, because her complete lack of experience in foreign policy or diplomacy would have mattered to Jeb or Marco. I wouldn’t have wanted Ben Carson as, say, Surgeon General, but at least it would have made some kind of sense, given that he’s a doctor. But when Fox News’ Neil Cavuto asked about his qualifications to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, Carson could come up with nothing better than “I grew up in the inner city.” (So did Kanye West; why wasn’t he considered?)

To me, this process looks more like casting a TV show than staffing an administration: Let’s put the black guy in charge of HUD and send the Indian woman to the UN. According to the NYT, Mitt Romney may benefit from the same factor:

Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.

DeVos (the sister of Blackwater founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince) similarly has no experience in the educational system, either as a teacher or an administrator. Her degree is in business administration. She and her husband founded Windquest Group, which describes itself as “a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm”. She has chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

But at least DeVos has shown an interest in education: She has been the leader of the political movement in Michigan to shift public funding of education away from public schools and towards vouchers that could be used in private schools. To imagine a comparable pick from the left, picture President Bernie Sanders naming the head of a disarmament group (who had never been in the military in any capacity, but clearly had studied military issues) as Defense Secretary.

DeVos is a fan of vouchers even for religious schools, which challenges the separation of church and state. Many Christians like religious-school vouchers, because they picture only Christian schools getting the money. The way to shut this down is to start Muslim schools, pagan schools, and so on. The fundamentalists are fine with tax dollars paying to promote Jesus, but paying to promote Allah or Buddha or Gaia is an abomination.


I predicted last week that Mitt Romney “won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.” The argument among Trump’s inner circle about whether to make him Secretary of State seems to be coming down to exactly how much groveling that is.

Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State – almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle.

If Mitt submits to this, he will have only himself to blame for all future humiliations.


My prediction last week that the Trump administration would not prosecute Hillary Clinton also panned out. Josh Marshall objects to the way Trump makes this sound like a personal favor he’s doing the Clintons. “This is how dictators talk.”

In truth, he never had the goods on Clinton, and his threat to prosecute was always just something he said for effect. He doesn’t need that effect any more, so he can say something else instead.


Democrats got excited this week about a claim that the election might have been rigged, and that an audit in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might still reverse the outcome. I’m skeptical, for the same reasons as Nate Silver. I think the close states Clinton lost show the same trends as the close states Clinton won: Virginia, for example. On Election Night, I knew we were in trouble when Virginia was so close. Losing Wisconsin didn’t then seem like the kind of shock that requires an extraordinary explanation.


I’ve been searching online for a blue “Are We Great Again Yet?” hat. Still haven’t found one. #AWGAY


German intelligence officials are worried that Russia plans to interfere in their elections the same way it did in America’s.

and the media’s inadequacy to the occasion

One of the most important articles about Trump — and I’m going to keep linking to it until it’s message catches on — was written in September by Vox‘ David Roberts: “The question of what Donald Trump “really believes” has no answer“.

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, “views” that reflect his assessment of the facts, “positions” that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

The media just doesn’t know how to cover a man who uses language this way. We saw another example this week after Trump met with The New York Times staff on Tuesday. Asked about the Paris Climate Change agreement that Obama signed and Trump repeated promised to reject, he said “I have an open mind” about it. This pleased people in the room and committed him to nothing. But it got covered as if it marked a real policy change, or at least the possibility of one.

Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor on the subject referred to NASA’s climate-change research as “highly politicized” and indicated that it will be discontinued. No substantive step Trump has taken should give any hope to environmentalists, but he got some nice headlines out of suggesting that he might be reasonable.


Similarly, when pressed by the NYT people about the Nazis who celebrated his victory with “Hail Trump!” (more about them in the featured post), he said: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.”

But Steve Bannon, who they look on as an ally, is still his chief strategist. Next week, Trump might be using the alt-Right’s coded language again, or retweeting something from WhiteGenocideTM or some similar online source. Vox explains what the alt-Right wants from the Trump administration, and why they’re not upset by his toothless disavowal.


Now Trump is claiming that he really won the popular vote — which in the real world Clinton won by more than 2.2 million votes — “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”. He offers no evidence to back this claim, which is widely being reported as “false” rather than just a he-said/she-said claim.

Again, the factual content is not the point. He is not trying to say something, he’s trying to do something. This requires a whole new kind of journalism. James Fallows outlines some small steps in that direction.

and corruption

Last week I listed “profiteering” as one of the things I’d be watching for in the new Trump administration. I had no idea how fast examples would start mounting up. The New York Times listed half a dozen countries where Trump’s business interests now compete with the national interest for his attention.

In Turkey, for example

officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, after Mr. Trump came to the defense of Mr. Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Mr. Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.

A Trump business partner in Manila has become the Philippines’ special envoy to the United States. In a post-election meeting with United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged UKIP to fight against wind farms like the one that he feels blights the neighborhood of his golf course in Scotland. In China, Trump just won a trademark dispute that had been raging for years — not for the country, for himself. In several countries, Trump construction projects have seen regulatory barriers come down since his election. Is that the normal pace of bureaucracy, or an attempt to curry favor? How would we know?

Paul Krugman makes an astute observation: To the extent that such deals become outright bribery, they will tilt American foreign policy in favor of dictatorships:

What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.

Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

That policy tilt will be far more important than the money Trump will manage to rake off while president.


E. J. Dionne attempts to shame Republicans in Congress by reminding them of their objections to the much less serious conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation. This is a test of my theory that Republicans are shameless.


In Scotland, Trump made a bunch of promises in exchange for local approval to build a golf course. Most of them haven’t been fulfilled.


The question of whether Republican senators will get in line behind the Trump administration is one of the most interesting things we’ll find out in the next few months. Nate Silver whipped up a model to predict who was most likely to give Trump trouble, and came up with Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote an article that appeared to protest against his low-likelihood-of-rebellion score, claiming that

Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government.

It all sounds very idealistic, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

and the Dakota pipeline protest

The LA Times lists the competing claims of demonstrators and the police. I wish they would try to adjudicate who is telling the truth.

and you might also be interested in …

James Fallows is reporting that China has become much more repressive in the last few years. This seems like a very important trend, and points to another way our media culture dis-serves us: Something that happens gradually over a period of years might not be “news” on any particular day.


Fidel Castro is dead.


Here’s your annual dose of humility: The NYT’s 100 Notable Books of 2016. I read four this year: Steven King’s End of Watch and three non-fiction books. Two of them I read for a book review: Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The final book, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, was buyer’s remorse for writing my book review before it came out. The other 96, I know nothing about.


The annual War on Christmas is about to flare up again.


Whenever I feel tempted to believe the claims that Christians face discrimination in America, I look into the details of a case and that cures me. Here’s one: A New York science teacher covered her classroom walls with posters featuring Bible verses, and sued after the administration made her take them down.

Friendly Atheist makes the same comment I often make about the Christians who see religious discrimination in such cases: They “would go batshit crazy if a non-Christian teacher ever did anything remotely similar to what Silver did.”


The abortion rate per woman in the 15-44 age group has dropped to half of its 1980 level, and is lower than at any time since Roe v Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Next year, expect this stat to get much more attention, and Trump to take credit for it. Just one more way America is becoming great again.


The world chess championship has come down to one game, without me even noticing until just now. We’ve come a long way from Fischer-Spassky.


Tim O’Reily of geek publishing house O’Reily Media has some good observations on how to spot fake news: mismatch between headline and content, lack of sources, mismatch between article text and the referenced source, unreliable sources, no independent accounts of the same events, misuse of data.

In general, I continue to be surprised by the number of people I think of as relatively intelligent who post fake news articles on Facebook. Still, we liberals seem to have higher standards than the other side. NPR tracked down a fake-news creator, who has learned to focus on fake-news that appeals to conservatives.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

A massive flock of starlings, filmed by Jan van Ijken and presented by National Geographic.

Should I Have White Pride?

2016 brought white nationalism into the mainstream discussion. Now we have to answer questions we used to ignore.

Writing them off. Throughout my lifetime, liberals have felt that we didn’t really need to argue against the more explicit forms of white racism. The KKK was bad; Jim Crow was bad; the Nazis were bad — that was pretty much all you needed to know.

Of course you’d run into arguments where racism might play a more subtle role and be harder to isolate: Affirmative action is unfair to whites; neighborhood schools are more important than desegregation; the over-representation of blacks in prisons or among the poor is due to their own broken family structure and lack of middle-class values; and so on. Whites who weren’t necessarily hostile to blacks or to civil rights in the abstract often found these points convincing, and some skill was required to defend the liberal view without alienating people who might be with you on some other issue.

But if the conversation came around to “I just think they’re genetically inferior” or “I’d like to send them all back to Africa” or “The Jews run everything anyway”, you didn’t need any skill. Just stop the conversation and write those people off. That kind of dinosaur racism was dying a well-deserved death, and those who still spouted it were probably turning off a lot more people than they convinced.

Many forms of white grievance just merited a one-line answer. Why isn’t there a White History Month? Because in American schools every month is White History Month; teachers don’t need any special reminder to mention George Washington or Thomas Edison.

You particularly didn’t need to argue against explicit racism during political campaigns, because all major national candidates considered racism toxic. That’s why there were “dog whistles“: Even a candidate as conservative as Ronald Reagan couldn’t appear to side with white racists, so he went to a town made famous by civil-rights murders and came out in favor of “states rights”. That was as far as he could go without risking a backlash from whites who found racism disgusting.

The new world of 2016. But the 2016 campaign sent us a clear message that times are changing. It was never any secret who white racists were supporting for president, and Donald Trump did relatively little to distance himself from them. When David Duke, an unrepentant former KKK grand wizard, endorsed him, Trump’s first reaction was to refuse to reject that endorsement:

I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.  And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

His speech to the Republican Convention centered on a non-existent immigrant crime wave: brown Hispanics and Muslims are coming for your family. Indiana-born Judge Curiel couldn’t possibly handle the Trump University fraud case fairly, because “He’s a Mexican.” He called for an explicit religious test on immigrants and tourists. He retweeted stuff from @WhiteGenocideTM. Trump’s ostensible appeals to black voters were typically delivered in white suburbs to almost entirely white audiences, and consisted of negative stereotypes of black life:

You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?

He even touched what (since the Holocaust) has been the third rail of American political racism: antisemitism. In what Senator Al Franken called a “German shepherd whistle“, Trump’s closing-argument commercial connected Clinton to Jewish financiers, echoing an earlier tweeted image of Clinton, a pile of money, and a Star of David — which also originated with white supremacists. (Trump has never explained how so many racist memes come to his attention. Does he follow Twitter users like @WhiteGenocideTM?)

Since the election, Trump has gotten far more agitated by a polite appeal from the cast of Hamilton to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us” than by a roomful of white supremacists shouting “Hail Trump!” and giving straight-arm Nazi salutes. When asked about the neo-Nazis during his interview at The New York Times, he said, “Boy, you are really into this stuff, huh?” When pressed, he said “I disavow and condemn.” But it wasn’t at all something he felt he needed to clear up.

So Trump doesn’t treat racism as toxic, and in fact it hasn’t been. He won anyway, or perhaps he won because. And that puts us in a new world. White nationalist and white grievance arguments are entering the mainstream, and we have to answer them now.

White grievance. The essence of the white-grievance argument is that mainstream culture imposes a double standard on whites, and puts us in impossible situations where anything we might say or do is wrong.

At that neo-Nazi conference Trump eventually got around to disavowing, the speaker who started the “Hail Trump!” chorus was Richard Spencer. He put the white-grievance argument this way:

In the Current Year, a white who takes pride in his ancestors’ accomplishments is evil, but a white who refuses to accept guilt for his ancestors’ sins is also evil.

In the Current Year, white families work their whole lives to send their children to universities where they will be told how despicable they are.

In the Current Year, the powerful lecture the powerless about how they don’t recognize their own “privilege.”

In the Current Year, a wealthy Jewish celebrity bragging about the “end of white men” is “speaking truth to power.’

In the Current Year, if you are physically strong, you are fragile. Black is beautiful, but whiteness is toxic.

In a lot of ways, I’m Spencer’s target audience: I’m a white man whose German Lutheran ancestors settled in rural Illinois just before the Civil War. I think I come from good people — nobody who shows up in history books, but ordinary folks who worked hard and did right by their neighbors and raised their kids to do the same. My parents’ hard work (and mine; I got scholarships) sent me to universities (Michigan State and the University of Chicago), where I did indeed get introduced to the dark side of American racial history and some of the advantages being white had given me.

Like Spencer, I don’t believe that whites are despicable or that whiteness is toxic. I do think slavery was a very bad thing — not sure whether Spencer agrees or not — but my personal feelings about its legacy are too complicated to sum up as guilt. (BTW: I think right-wingers went off the deep end responding to Lena Dunham’s short conversation with her Dad about “the extinction of white men”, and I’m not sure why her Jewishness is relevant. I don’t feel the least bit threatened by her animated video, and I’m confident that no actual white men were harmed in the drawing of it.)

So why don’t I have the kind of white pride Spencer is trying to promote and defend? And why don’t I feel aggrieved by a culture that doesn’t approve of expressing that pride?

My pride. I’ve got some. As I said already, I feel pride in my ancestors.

I also feel pride in being an American. I write a lot on this blog about American history and the Constitution and the tradition of our laws, and I hope my words convey the amazement and wonder I find in it all. Naturally, we have villains as well as heroes, and I try not to pretend otherwise, but none of that ruins it for me. In some ways it’s even better once you understand that none of the characters in our story were gods, that they were humans with all the flaws you can see in humans today. Many of the great things they did were also terrible at the same time, and at the end of it all, somehow, here we are.

I love the English language, and what other writers have done with it. Not just the giants like Shakespeare or Faulkner, but anybody who can turn a good phrase. If you ever happen to be in the room while I have my nose in a book, don’t be surprised if I suddenly jump up and interrupt everybody else’s conversation with: “Oh, you have to hear this!” and then start reading aloud.

I take pride in Western Culture, the whole dead-white-male tradition of the so-called “Great Books”. I have loved Plato since I stumbled across a translation of “Apology of Socrates” in junior high. The abstract beauty of Euclid, Periclean democracy, the cosmopolitan Stoics, infinitely logical Spinoza, and that long, long dialog (continuing to this very moment) between what we want to believe about the world and what we can make sense out of — irrationally, I feel like it is all in some way my own, as if in rediscovering it I had thought of it myself.

I even feel a certain amount of ethnic German pride, though American Germans have been playing that down since the world wars. I can’t speak the language, but I read it well enough to appreciate its unpretentious logic, where you can reason a word out syllable-by-syllable in the same way you might sound it out it letter-by-letter. (Wahrscheinlichkeit, for example, breaks down as true-seeming-ness: probability.) Watching the World Cup, I started rooting for the German team as soon as the Americans were eliminated.

If you ask white supremacists about their “white pride”, they’ll point to a lot of this same stuff: White people wrote the Constitution, created German and English, and are responsible for nearly all the Western classics. The pride I just expressed, they would claim, is white pride.

And that’s where they lose me.

My identity. Ancestry is largely genetic, I’ll grant you. But the other pieces of my identity aren’t. When I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack, for example, I feel both American pride and English-language pride; the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda is Puerto Rican and most of the cast is  something other than white doesn’t diminish that.

One of the things I love about my national heritage is its lack of boundaries. If you have something good in you and you want to bring it to America, we’ll take it and make it our own. Is Einstein too Jewish for Hitler? Fine, we’ll take him. English literature is the same way: Joseph Conrad‘s first language was Polish, but who cares? Heart of Darkness is an English classic. Western culture is great because it is porous and permeable; anybody who masters it, like Salman Rushdie, becomes part of it, no matter where they were born or who their parents were.

Without that permeability, I couldn’t claim most of Western culture either. Plato and Homer were Greek; they’re no relation of mine. (If Plato ever talked about my Germanic ancestors, he would have used the Greek word barbaros, from which we derive barbarian.) Descartes was French, Tolstoy Russian. So why should it bother me that Edward Said was Arab or Haruki Murakami is Japanese? I envy the things Martin Luther King did with spoken English and Ta-Nehisi Coates does with written English. Should I not learn from them because they’re black?

Anybody who claims Western culture as “white” doesn’t really get the point of Western culture.

White identity is artificial. But there’s an even bigger problem with identifying as white, which the last section only hinted at: Most of the historical heroes I would want to claim had no idea they were white.

The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock didn’t think they were white, they thought they were English. Columbus wasn’t white, or even Italian; he was a Genoan working for Spain. (Spain itself was a new idea then, having just formed from the union of Castille and Aragon.) Shakespeare, Milton, and Cervantes weren’t white. Whiteness just wasn’t a thing yet.

When it did it become a thing? When the white/black distinction became the basis of slavery.

Blackness was invented at the same moment. The dark-skinned people who were loaded onto the slavers’ ships weren’t black, they were Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon and dozens or maybe hundreds of other ethnicities. They spoke different languages, ate different foods, and worshiped different gods. They became black when their new masters imposed a common experience on them and saw them as interchangeable.

Something similar, if much less extreme, happened to the Poles, Czechs, Irish, and other Europeans who came through Ellis Island. They were allowed to keep a little of their previous identity, but considered backwards if they took it too seriously. (You can see that process happening in the background of all those making-of-the-Mafia movies. Lucky Luciano had become an Italian-American, but the previous generation of bosses — Maranzano, Masseria — were still greaseballs.)

Imagine trying to organize a White Heritage Festival. What food would you serve? What ancestral costumes would you dress your staff in? The reason those question seem so silly is that there is no white culture. There never has been.

Whiteness is about being the master rather than the slave. That’s the sum total of it.

Why white pride is different from black pride. Whiteness and blackness were created at the same moment, by the same act of enslavement. But they were not created equal. White identity and black identity are both in some sense artificial, but there is no equivalency between them.

When Africans were enslaved, the masters did their best to erase any prior African identity. Italian immigrants could form their own neighborhoods, like Little Italy in Manhattan. On the frontier, entire regions were settled by Germans or Swedes. But the cotton plantations did not recognize any prior tribal distinctions, and any attempt by the slaves to practice a non-Christian religion or preserve a language the masters did not understand was put down harshly.

Slaves of all tribes were all housed together, and encouraged to breed like cattle. To the extent they were taught anything about their African motherland, they were told it was a land of savages who were little better than animals. How generous the white man had been, to bring them to a Christian land and teach them civilization!

When you grasp even that much about the black experience in America, you understand the job black pride needed (and still needs) to do: On the one hand, it needed to celebrate the polyglot culture the slaves made for themselves, how it continued after Emancipation, and its contributions to the larger American culture. And on the other, it needed to reach back beyond slavery, and recapture a sense of Africa as a place of origin, with its own history and traditions.

There is no similar task for white pride. I know exactly what part of Europe my ancestors came from, and German ethnicity is there for me whenever I want it. If I eat schnitzel and drink beer during Oktoberfest, no one will condemn me. I could put on lederhosen and dance to an oompah band if that would do something for me. If I want to go deeper, I could read Faust, recite the poetry of Rilke, or attend a Wagner opera.

Similarly, you can celebrate your Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day, and make something more out of that identity if you need to. If Italians want to congregate on Columbus Day, critics might dispute their choice of hero, but not their right to a holiday. A few miles from my apartment, there’s a Greek festival every year on the day of some saint whose name I can never remember. It’s a good place to get baklava and spanakopita.

The various European identities were never completely erased, and are totally recoverable. In most cases, you can visit the original country, where the original culture may have evolved since your ancestors left, but was never overwritten by colonialism. There is no hole for white pride to fill.

Dark whiteness. But there is a dark place white pride can go to, and in practice it quickly goes there. Whiteness and blackness originate in slavery. So in the same way that black pride focuses on healing the injuries of slavery, white pride can celebrate that enslavement.

Maybe there is no white culture, but there was Confederate culture, the lifestyle of the slave-master. Spend any length of time on a white-pride web site, and you’ll run into the stars-and-bars, and “heroes” like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. You’ll run into white people whitesplaining that slavery wasn’t really so bad, that the house slaves were practically members of the family, that blacks were better off on the plantations of Charleston than they are in the ghettos of Detroit, and so on.

Strangely, I never hear any black people, no matter how poor they are, waxing nostalgic about the old plantation days — just white people claiming that they should.

Guilt and responsibility. Probably the most persuasive part of the white-grievance argument is that people are trying to make us feel guilty for things we haven’t done. I personally had nothing to do with enslaving the blacks, committing genocide against the Jews of Europe, or stealing the homelands of the Native American tribes. All of that happened long before I was born. So why do liberals want me to feel guilty about it?

a white who takes pride in his ancestors’ accomplishments is evil, but a white who refuses to accept guilt for his ancestors’ sins is also evil.

This objection is based on a gross (and I think intentional) misreading of the liberal position on race.

Guilt is personal, not collective; if you didn’t do it, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But responsibility for making the world more just is collective.

Blacks were brought to America by force. They had their ethnic identities stripped away by force. Their labor built a great deal of this country and its wealth, both during slavery and during the times that followed when they were an exploited underclass. In exchange, they received very little of that wealth. Today, many continue to live as an underclass, with slim opportunities to make a better life.

I didn’t do that to them. No living white individual did. But American society as a whole — all of it, not just the white part — bears a responsibility to correct that injustice, or at least to stop perpetuating it.

How to do that, what would be fair, and what stands a chance of working — those are all open questions. Many legitimate points of view are possible. What is not legitimate, and what individual whites ought to feel guilty about, is taking a sucks-to-be-them attitude and sloughing off responsibility entirely. That’s not just something our collective ancestors did long ago. That is something we might be doing as individuals right now.

So what are we being asked to do? Not to feel guilty, but to open our eyes and stop rationalizing that American society is already just and everybody is exactly where they deserve to be. To recognize the ways that the game has been rigged in our favor. And to participate — fully, intelligently, responsibly — in figuring out and implementing plans to achieve a more just society.

Personally, I find that a project that I — as an American, a German-American, a participant in Western culture, and yes, even as a white — can take pride in.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I keep reminding myself that there’s nothing new about Nazis, even American ones.

After all, I was only 9 back in 1966 when Playboy published Alex Haley’s interview with George Lincoln Rockwell. (“I’ve got nothing against you,” Rockwell told him, “I just think you people would be happier back in Africa where you came from.”) There’s part of me that says you just ignore them. They crave attention, and we’re just giving them legitimacy when we argue with them.

But they got me this week. I saw the video of Richard Spencer’s speech to the members of the blandly named National Policy Institute in Washington, and I couldn’t look away. Probably there weren’t more than a couple hundred of them, but they were standing up and giving the traditional Nazi salute in response to a speech that ended “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” As if they had won the election themselves.

Just ignore them, I think.

But then I remember that my parents’ generation, the one that fought the original Nazis for control of Europe, is dying off. For decades, Nazis have been little more than cartoon villains. Slapping a swastika on a character has been a quick way for scriptwriters to say “This guy’s evil.”

What must it be like to be a young white man and wander into a Nazi meeting the way he might go to a black mass or some other campy invocation of everything he’s been warned against? “Such nice folks,” he might think afterward. “They’re not at all like the guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They just want to stand up for our race the way the black activists stand up for theirs.”

So this week I’m not ignoring them. The featured article takes their challenge seriously, asking “Should I Have White Pride?” That should be out by 10 EST.

The weekly summary continues looking at the emerging Trump cabinet. I also discuss the ways the media is still unprepared to deal with a president like Trump, as evidenced by his discussion with staff at The New York Times Tuesday; the attacks on the pipeline protesters in South Dakota; my lack of excitement about the recount in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere; the death of Castro; fake news; and some other things, before closing with an awe-inspiring bird video. I’m aiming to have that done by noon.

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times.

reputed to be a Chinese curse

This week’s featured post is “The Trump Administration: What I’m watching for“. Last week there was no weekly summary and I hadn’t expected to post at all, but “How did my hometown become Trumpland?” just leaped out. In the meantime, I was giving a talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois about the longer-term problem in our democracy that the Trump campaign is just a symptom of.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump administration

Nothing we’ve seen so far is reassuring. During the campaign I often heard Trump supporters claim that his inexperience in government and his lack of depth on the issues didn’t really matter, because he would surround himself with the best people. So far, there’s no indication that’s happening.

Reince Priebus as chief of staff is, I suppose, the least worrying of the announcements. (If you want a mental picture of what a chief of staff does, that was Leo’s job in The West Wing.) He is a standard Republican who might have gotten a lesser position in a Romney administration.

But Steve Bannon in the newly-invented position of chief strategist is deeply troubling. He turned Breitbart into the go-to news source for white nationalists. You can argue about whether he himself is a white nationalist or an anti-Semite — some people who know him personally say no — but he panders to those who are, so I’m not sure that what’s in his heart matters. Someone like Bannon would have been beyond the pale in any previous Republican administration.

General Michael Flynn as national security adviser … here’s something from The Economist:

In a book published earlier this year, General Flynn writes: “We’re in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam. But we are not permitted to write those two words, which is potentially fatal to our culture.” In another passage, he declares that there is “no escape from this war” and asks: “Do you want to be ruled by men who eagerly drink the blood of their dying enemies…there’s no doubt that they [Islamic State] are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

This is what worries me: If top American officials go around talking about a world war with Islam, they can make that prediction come true. I’ve often said on this blog that the crucial battlefield in the war on terror lies inside the minds of 15-year-old Muslims. Do they see a future for themselves in the current world order, or not? If they live in the United States, do they see Muslim-American as a viable identity, or not? Trump’s election tilts that decision in a bad direction; Flynn as his top security adviser tilts it further.

So does the selection of Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Pompeo is an advocate of torture and of expanding the prison at Guantanamo. In Congress, he was one of the most partisan members of the Benghazi Committee.

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General means that the federal government is getting out of the business of defending civil rights. (Actually that’s not true, his Civil Rights Division is likely to be quite busy: Sessions takes seriously the myth that Christians are persecuted, so he’ll defend their right to discriminate against gays or women who want birth control. Also expect to see more reverse-discrimination cases against affirmative action programs.) I expect deep-Confederacy states like Mississippi or Alabama to pass laws blatantly suppressing the black vote, and Sessions’ Justice Department to do nothing. (That’s why it’s suddenly much more important to support private groups like the ACLU or NAACP.)

He is also an opponent of privacy rights. Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez says:

When it comes to surveillance powers, he’s more catholic than the Pope. He wants to grant more authorities with fewer limitations than even the law enforcement or intelligence communities are asking for.


But beyond the problems with any particular choice, the pattern is disturbing: So far, Trump is valuing loyalty over expertise. Bannon was his campaign CEO. Priebus brought the RNC to heel after Trump’s nomination. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Flynn was a campaign adviser.

Trump-critic Eliot Cohen initially urged his fellow conservatives to put aside their differences and go work for the new administration, but then changed his mind after hearing reports from inside the transition process.

Cohen, who last week had urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration, said in an interview that a longtime friend and senior transition team official had asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees. After he suggested several people, Cohen said, his friend emailed him back in terms he described as “very weird, very disturbing.”

“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend.

Compare this to the team-of-rivals Obama assembled. His chief Democratic rival became secretary of state, he kept on a Republican defense secretary, and he also nominated Republicans to head the departments of transportation and commerce.

Trump critics like Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney have been called to Trump Tower and had their names floated for posts, but I’ll believe that when I see it. I think their attendance signifies nothing more than their submission. They won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.


The flap over Hamilton revealed another disturbing tendency in the new administration. In case you missed it, Vice President-elect Pence went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton Friday night. During the curtain call, one of the actors read a statement written by the show’s author, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, we hope that you will hear us out.

And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

As you can see, the statement was respectful and not an attack of any kind. I would summarize it as a request for reassurance.

It would have been easy for Trump to either ignore this or respond to it gracefully, with something like: “Of course we’ll protect all Americans and defend American values.” If he wanted to score some political points, he could have blamed the hostile media for inspiring such baseless fears of his administration.

He didn’t do that. Instead, he launched a series of tweets Saturday and Sunday, calling Hamilton “overrated” and demanding that the cast “apologize” for their “terrible behavior”.

Here’s how I read the incident: Trump wants people to be afraid of him. Why else do you slap down people who come to you asking for reassurance?

and how on Earth Trump got elected

The first thing I should acknowledge is that my returns-watching guide didn’t foresee the Trump victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I hope it was useful anyway, in the sense that as reality diverged from my predictions, you saw how the night was going. Some of my early warning signs of a bad night — the Indiana senate race getting called for the Republicans right away, Virginia taking a long time to come in — were indeed early warnings.


I’m seeing a lot of finger-pointing among Democrats: Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton are to blame; the Party is to blame for nominating Clinton in the first place; Clinton should have known the upper Midwest was vulnerable; Bernie should never have validated those bogus Republican trustworthiness issues by raising them in the primaries; black turnout should have been higher; and so on.

To me, none of this seems like a good use of our time and energy. If your psychology is wired in such a way that you need to blame somebody, I offer these five candidates:

  • The Founders and their bleeping Electoral College. Anybody who goes on a rant about what a bad candidate Clinton was and how unpopular she is needs to be reminded of the fact that she got something like 1.7 million more votes than Trump did. The Electoral College never worked according to the hare-brained scheme the Founders had in mind, and it should have been junked in 1801 after the Aaron Burr fiasco. The net effect of the College in recent elections has been to disenfranchise Californians. Clinton lost because her million-vote plurality included a more-than-two-million-vote margin in California. Similarly in 2000, Al Gore had the misfortune of locating 1.3 million of his 500,000-vote plurality in California and 1.7 million in New York. Unfortunately, since Republicans owe two of their last three victories to the College, it has become a partisan advantage, so we’ll never get rid of it now.
  • The Russians. Without the constant drip-drip of pseudo-scandalous headlines from Democratic emails hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks, the Clinton campaign could have done a much better job of controlling its message in the final month of the campaign. The biggest scandal of the 2016 campaign is that the winning candidate owes his victory to the meddling of a foreign power, and that Republicans seem not at all bothered by this.
  • The FBI. James Comey violated the Justice Department rules about not interfering in elections, derailing the momentum that Clinton seemed to have going into the home stretch of the campaign. Similarly, lower-level sources inside the FBI kept on feeding the right-wing media leaks about ongoing investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which I suspect we will never hear about again now that these “investigations” have served their partisan purposes.
  • The media. The fact that low-information voters — and a lot of people who pay more attention — got the idea that Clinton and Trump were equally flawed candidates is due to a gross distortion of election coverage.
  • Voter suppression. Vox makes a good case that Republican moves to suppress minority turnout didn’t make the difference by itself. But it was definitely a factor in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.

I continue to believe that Clinton would have been a good president, but Trump won and the Republic is in real danger now.

There’s a legitimate argument to be had within the Democratic Party about whether to put forward a sweeping agenda for radical change, or to stand for the reasonable center against the radical Trump administration. But both messages will be out there in the next few months, and they will either gain traction with the public or they won’t. Arguing over how 2016 was lost isn’t a worthwhile use of our energy.

and you might also be interested in

A comment on the NYT Facebook page:

Huyên Phương Lê I am considering many grad schools in the US for my master course next fall. Before the election, I only looked at the ranking, the alumni’s feedback, the requirements and the fee and campus life. Now, I really have to think about the safety. As an Asian woman, I don’t expect anyone to stop me in the street and tell me to get back to China (which I am not from). So now, although I was so sure about some schools in Texas and Wisconsin, I have to sit down once again, and closely look at the cities, and hope that they are not too red. This election changed my mind about America.


Does this surprise anyone? Now that the election is over, Donald I-never-settle Trump is paying $25 million to settle the Trump University lawsuits. Part of the agreement is that he admits no wrong-doing, but who pays $25 million to people they haven’t wronged? Especially if it’s a “phony lawsuit” and an “easy win”, as he claimed earlier this year.

Donald Trump committed fraud against thousands of ordinary Americans. That isn’t some partisan fantasy, like the charges against the Clinton Foundation. It’s a fact.


An amusing bit of satire: Andrea Grimes isn’t ready yet to deal with all the Trump supporters who want to talk to her so that they can understand why their candidate lost the popular vote.


Interesting story in the NYT about the widespread falsehood that the protests against Trump were fake, with paid protestors bused in. A guy with 40 Twitter followers saw some buses in Austin at about the same time protests were happening, jumped to a conclusion, and tweeted a picture. That fake “news” filled a psychological need, so it got shared hundreds of thousands of times before anyone checked it out.


The one encouraging thing in Trump’s proposals was supposed to be his infrastructure plan. Obama has been proposing infrastructure programs for years, hoping to create jobs by doing stuff that needs to get done anyway, but Republicans in Congress have blocked him.

So is this something Democrats should get behind for the good of the country, rejecting the kind of if-he’s-for-it-I’m-against-it obstruction that Republicans directed at Obama? Well, they should take a good hard look at the details first. Ron Klein writes:

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. … Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway. Contractors have no obligation to hire new workers, or expand workers’ hours, to collect their $85 billion.

And Paul Krugman gets more specific:

For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 billion while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

… why do it this way? Why not just have the government do the spending, the way it did when, for example, we built the Interstate Highway System? It’s not as if the feds are having trouble borrowing. And while involving private investors may create less upfront government debt than a more straightforward scheme, the eventual burden on taxpayers will be every bit as high if not higher.

What was talked about during the campaign may not be exactly what gets proposed. But whatever gets proposed needs to be closely examined.


Here’s a graph of the area covered by sea ice, world-wide, with the (red) 2016 falling well below previous years. There’s some debate about what it means, because it lumps together Arctic and Antarctic ice, which are two very different situations. But it can’t be good.

but here are some previews of coming attractions

One of the weird consequences of the election for me personally (after a couple days of depression) was the energizing thought: There is so much that needs to be written now. For example, up until now I’ve taken it for granted that certain kinds of white racism didn’t really need to be addressed, because they were already taboo for serious conversation. That’s not true any more, so sometime soon I’ll be writing about the difference between my own sense of pride in where I come from and “white pride”, as well as addressing the question of why there’s no White History Month. As I say, that didn’t used to be necessary, but it is now. We used to be able to just scoff at this stuff, but now we need an articulate response.

In general, there’s a lot about race that is well understood academically, but hasn’t been sufficiently popularized. Posts on that theme will come out fairly often, I expect.

Another thing I’ll write about at some point is a basic difference in moral viewpoints between Trumpists and liberals like myself. That sounds like an esoteric topic, but it turns out to be very illuminating. Several people have already written about the difference between a universal view of morality and an us/them view, but I think the topic needs a more popular touch. (In the meantime, check out this presentation.)

An ongoing theme of the coming months is likely to be the typical progress of authoritarian/fascist governments, and whether or not we’re seeing that in the Trump administration. One important article in this regard is Jason Stanley’s “Beyond Lying: Trump’s authoritarian reality“.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Donald Trump is trying to define a simple reality as a means to express his power. The goal is to define a reality that justifies his value system, thereby changing the value systems of his audience.

In other words, if Trump says 2+2 is 5, that’s not necessarily a mistake. He might be demonstrating that he can say this and get away with it. If he can get his previous enemies to repeat “2+2 is 5”, that shows his followers just how irresistible his power is. (There’s a lot to unpack here, so more later.)

and let’s close with something musical

I think I’m going to listen to this a lot in the next four years: “Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants. We might all be having conversations like this soon.

The Trump Administration: What I’m watching for

So far, I haven’t been tempted to protest against President-elect Donald Trump, at least not yet. If I am angry at all right now, it is at the swing-state voters who put him in office, not at him for taking advantage of our ridiculous Electoral College system, which allowed him to win when Hillary Clinton got more votes (about 1.7 million more, at last count). But demonstrating support for immigrants, Muslims, gays, and others who feel threatened by a Trump administration is a different matter.

Mostly for the sake of my own sanity, I have resolved not to react to things Trump hasn’t done yet. So, for example, in this week’s summary post I will comment on the appointments he has made, but not on the people he is rumored to be considering. During the next four years, I expect to see plenty of actions worth objecting to. But this will be a marathon, not a sprint, so I see no reason to jump the gun.

That said, I am also not naively hoping for the best. I am watching the Trump administration closely, and will be quick to object as soon as there are actions worth objecting to. Here is a list of the primary things I’m watching for, starting with the most mundane:

Taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments. President Obama has left his successor a country in much better shape than the one he inherited from President Bush. Republicans in general and Trump in particular have refused to give Obama credit for his accomplishments, or even to recognize good news when it appeared. Now Trump is in a position to acknowledge American success and take credit for it.

So, for example, ISIS has been losing territory for some while now. Mosul, its last stronghold in Iraq, is cut off and likely to fall in the next few months. Its de facto capital of Raqqa is under attack in Syria. If events continue on their current path, sometime in 2017 President Trump will be able to declare victory in the territorial struggle, though ISIS will continue to be a significant underground movement. That victory will be the result of Obama’s strategy, but I expect Trump to crow about how “America is winning again.”

Similarly, expect Republicans to suddenly notice that the number of undocumented immigrants is dropping, gas prices are down, unemployment is low, and that rates of murder and other major crimes are at their lowest levels in decades. Already, Gallup reports that Republicans have drastically changed their opinion about how well the economy is doing: “Just 16% of Republicans said the economy was getting better in the week before the election, while 81% said it was getting worse. Since the election, 49% say it is getting better and 44% worse.”

The beauty of this (from Trump’s point of view) is that no lying is necessary. On the contrary, all he has to do is stop lying about the state of country, and bask in the glow of instant success.

Taking credit for averting dangers that never existed. This has already started. Trump is taking credit for keeping a Kentucky Ford plant from moving to Mexico, when Ford never had a plan to move it. Who knows what he’ll prevent next? War with Belgium, maybe. By May, he will have decisively beaten winter.

In the conspiracy-theory swamps where many Trump supporters live, this will be incredibly easy: All they have to do is celebrate the end of things that never existed to begin with: You know those FEMA detention camps where anti-Obama dissidents were going to be sent? Trump closed them! They’re gone.

I’m reminded of a joke about a political leader answering charges of nepotism. Asked why his mother was on the public payroll, he explained that she oversaw the government’s anti-tiger policy. “But there are no tigers for a thousand miles,” the interviewer objected. “Don’t thank me,” the leader responded. “Thank Mom.”

Profiteering. This picture is worth a thousand words:

It’s President-elect Trump’s first meeting with a foreign head of state: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. And who is that in the chair on the right? Ivanka Trump, the daughter who is expected to take control of Trump’s business interests.

It’s a staged photo, and the message it sends is unmistakable: There will be no distance between Trump’s government and Trump’s profit-making enterprises. The Trump children have all played significant roles in the transition, so many officials in the new administration will be in their debt. And presumably they will continue to have their father’s ear after the inauguration, even as they negotiate deals in foreign countries.

This week, Trump also met with three businessmen who are building Trump-branded properties in India. Two are sons of a member of India’s Parliament.

What this means is that there is a wide-open door for foreign governments to bribe President Trump: Go to Ivanka (or maybe even directly to Donald) and cut a lucrative deal to build a new Trump Tower in your capital city. Or if you are afraid the President is going to do something you don’t like, threaten to cancel such a deal.

This kind of thinking is toxic:

In interviews with a dozen diplomats … some said spending money at Trump’s hotel is an easy, friendly gesture to the new president.

“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’ ” said one Asian diplomat.

So if you’re competing against a Trump business, you’re competing against the Trump administration. It’s one enterprise now.

All this runs afoul of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which conservatives were inclined to interpret strictly when imagining President Hillary Clinton. Unless Trump has some amazing plan he hasn’t announced yet, his violation of the Clause looks likely to be far more blatant than anything Clinton did or was even accused of doing. So we’ll soon see which conservatives have actually been serious about that uphold-the-Constitution rhetoric.

Changing the electorate. All through the campaign, conservative voices like Laura Ingraham have been referring to the Trump campaign as “the last chance, last stand for America as we know it”. The racial dog whistle there is pretty obvious: “America as we know it” is White America, and the electorate becomes a little less white every year.

To a certain extent that process can be slowed down by preventing non-white immigrants from becoming citizens. But that won’t change the demographics, because the non-white population is younger and more inclined towards large families. So if you really want to preserve the United States as a white-majority nation, you have to prevent non-whites from voting.

That has been the Republican strategy for several years now. As soon as the Supreme Court opened the door, states governed by Republicans began changing election rules to make it harder to vote, especially for blacks, Hispanics, poor people, and college students. Fortunately, this year courts struck down the most outrageous attempts to rig the electorate, like North Carolina’s.

The court said that in crafting the law, the Republican-controlled general assembly requested and received data on voters’ use of various voting practices by race. It found that African American voters in North Carolina are more likely to vote early, use same-day voter registration and straight-ticket voting. They were also disproportionately less likely to have an ID, more likely to cast a provisional ballot and take advantage of pre-registration.

Then, the court, said, lawmakers restricted all of these voting options, and further narrowed the list of acceptable voter IDs. “… [W]ith race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans. As amended, the bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”

Unfortunately, the federal Justice Department plays a big role in bringing such cases to court, and under Attorney General Sessions it’s likely to get out of that business. (Sessions’ home state of Alabama has been one of the worst offenders, and he has not raised a word of protest.) Then there’s the question of how President Trump’s appointees will stack the courts.

Winking at right-wing paramilitary groups. To be honest, I’ll be relieved if we make it through the next four years with nothing worse than financial chicanery. Much darker stuff is possible.

When we think of fascist governments, we usually picture the police doing things like destroying the printing presses of critical newspapers and dragging their editors off to jail. But that kind of thing only happens at a much later stage. Early on, fascist violence is unofficial: Organized thugs destroy the printing press and send the editor to a hospital, not a jail. Police are not involved, but they show no interest in catching the people who are.

Right-wing violence in America was already a problem before Trump: There are groups that support firebombing abortion clinics and murdering doctors. Hate crimes against blacks, immigrants, or Muslims are usually portrayed as the work of isolated maniacs, but in fact killers like Dylann Roof and Wade Michael Page have had far stronger relationships with organized hate groups than, say, Omar Mateen had with ISIS. The Bundy gang in Nevada has openly challenged the federal government with armed resistance.

An Oathkeeper "protecting" Ferguson

An Oathkeeper “protecting” Ferguson

During the campaign, Trump frequently praised violence and valorized violent responses from his followers. My question is whether this will continue after inauguration and if violent Trump supporters will organize in a brownshirt fashion. Or perhaps already existing groups — Oathkeepers, for example — will shift into this role. Militia groups that organized to resist imaginary “tyranny” from Obama might welcome the opportunity to support an actual tyranny of their own.

And if this happens, how will Trump react? He could condemn such a development, or he could suggest targets to his paramilitary supporters by labeling people as “traitors” or using some similar language.

Richard Engel drew on his observations of other countries to describe the signs of creeping authoritarianism to Rachel Maddow.

If you start to hear the word “traitor” being used a lot about the opposition, that’s a red flag. If those criticisms escalate to “cancer”, that’s an even worse sign. So I think we should be listening for things like that. After that, the next stage would be mass rallies by his supporters that look potentially intimidating. And after that, to see if there’s any kind of call for a referendum to go right to the people to get around the constitutional system.

Subverting government agencies for political advantage. If Trump does intend to push America in an authoritarian direction, institutional forces within the government might resist — or not.

I don’t expect Trump to carry through on his promise to appoint a special prosecutor to go after the Clintons. The whole point of the accusations against Hillary was to defeat her politically and neutralize the Clintons as a political force — not to pursue justice or enforce the law. That political mission has been accomplished now, and attempting to prosecute her would only demonstrate how baseless the charges were.

But the mere fact that he would suggest such a thing is gravely troubling. In America, prosecutions bubble up from investigators, they don’t come down from the President. He has also threatened antitrust action against Amazon because its founder (Jeff Bezos) also owns The Washington Post, which Trump found too critical.

FBI Director Comey’s highly unusual commentary on the Clinton email server problem — ordinarily, an investigation that didn’t produce prosecutions would not be revealed to the public, and certainly not late in an election campaign — as well as the leaks from inside the FBI about some nebulous Clinton Foundation investigation, suggests that there has been considerable political corruption of the FBI already.

The FBI, CIA, NSA, SEC, IRS, and other agencies all have considerable power to make Trump’s critics miserable, as well as to provide valuable information to his business interests. Will they be asked to do so, and will they give in?

Paying Putin back. Trump and Vladimir Putin both know that Trump could not have won without Putin’s help. The Russian hack of DNC and Clinton campaign emails was a major factor in the campaign. We have since found out that the Trump campaign was in regular contact with Russian officials. This should come as no surprise, since former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had previously received millions of dollars from pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine.

Two questions immediately come to mind: Will the Russian government continue committing crimes for Trump’s benefit? And what do they want in return?

Obvious ways to pay Putin back include: supporting the Russian-allied Assad regime in Syria, turning a blind eye to further encroachments in Ukraine, or letting Putin dominate our NATO allies in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

 

Did I miss anything important? What else should we be on the lookout for?

The Monday Morning Teaser

So here we are, living in the Chinese curse of interesting times, the kinds of times we used to scare the 18-year-olds with. “If you don’t vote, we could wind up …”.

Here we are.

Like most people I know, I’ve been suffering occasional attacks of rage or depression. But it’s also oddly energizing sometimes. If you ever had fantasies of being a hero, well, gear up; the villains are taking the field. It feels like we’re in a trilogy, somewhere around the end of Book Two. Ancient evils have jumped out of history books and grainy newsreels, and are appearing on live TV. Their words and ideas are coming out of the mouths of our neighbors.

Who thought we’d have to deal with this in our lifetimes?

For some while now, everything that you can think to do about the situation is going to seem hopelessly inadequate. But it’s important that you do it anyway. That’s how it is at the end of Book Two. You’re a Hobbit with all of Mordor in front of you, or an Ewok facing a galactic empire. The idea that you’re going to turn things around is laughable. And a lot of the stuff that people think to do will come to nothing, just like it seems. But some of it won’t, and if anybody can say for sure which is which, I haven’t met them yet.

So anyway, today I plan to type a bunch of words onto a screen. It’s what I can think to do. You think that seems hopelessly inadequate? Tell me about it.

The featured post will be a list of the things I’m watching for out of the Trump administration. As bad stuff starts to happen, it’s important that we spot it quickly and see it for what it is. My list starts with mundane stuff (like taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments) and progresses through to scarier things (like winking at right-wing paramilitary groups and paying Putin back for his help in the campaign). I don’t think we should be jumping at shadows by reacting to things Trump hasn’t done yet, but we definitely need to be watching those shadows and preparing ourselves to respond quickly if something comes out of them.

That should come out sometime between 9 and 10 EST.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover, particularly the appointments Trump has been making. (To quote the Sundance Kid, “Who are those guys?”) But also, settling the Trump U lawsuit, the Hamilton flap, whether Democrats should support Trump’s infrastructure plan, that alarming graph about sea ice, and a few other things. And I’ll close by letting They Might Be Giants sing us out.