Battles in Progress

If the Georgia race had taken place in another country—say, the Republic of Georgia—U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy … Kemp’s asterisk win suggests that the battle for voting rights, which many imagined was over and done with in the last century, is still very much in progress.

Carol Anderson, Emory University

This week’s featured post is “A Legislative Agenda for House Democrats“.

This week everybody was talking about the midterm results

Early Tuesday evening, I was having 2016 flashbacks: The optimistic polls in Florida appeared to be wrong, and the first House toss-up race (Virginia-5) went to the Republican. The earliest returns came from Indiana, where Joe Donnelly was losing, dooming the admittedly unlikely Democrats-take-the-Senate scenario from the outset. The Blue Wave just wasn’t happening.

Then things got better. Votes are still being counted (especially mail-in votes in California), so no one has a precise estimate of the national popular vote in the House races yet. But Wikipedia’s running total currently has the Democratic margin at 6.5%. In 2010, an election everyone calls a Republican wave, the GOP won the House national popular vote by 6.8%. The Republican wave looked bigger, because it picked up 63 House seats that year compared to the Democrats’ 34-44 seats this year. (538 is estimating a final total gain of 38 seats.) In 2010, the GOP wound up with 242 seats. Democrats will probably wind up somewhere in the low 230s. The difference? Gerrymandering. Republican control on the state level has allowed them to construct a large number of secure districts.

As it stands now, Republicans have 51 Senate seats and Democrats 46, with three (Florida, Arizona, and Mississippi) still to be decided. Arizona will likely go Democratic and Mississippi Republican (after a run-off). So the final Senate composition will likely be either 53-47 or 52-48. (It was 52-48 before Doug Jones won the Alabama special election last year.)

In the House, Democrats have 225 seats (already more than the 218 needed for a majority) and Republicans 200, with 10 still undecided.

As we wait to see if Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum can prevail in the Florida recount, let’s take a few moments to bid a very joyous good-bye to Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, Dana Rohrabacher, Dave Bratt, Peter Roskam, and Pete Sessions. Too bad Steve King couldn’t join you.

and the subversion of democracy

This year, Georgia went all-out to keep non-whites from voting, with the result that Secretary of State Brian Kemp looks likely to move up to the governorship. Emory University Professor Carol Anderson writes in The Atlantic:

In the end, it looks like Kemp won. It’s impossible to know if his attempts to restrict the franchise are what pushed him over the line. But if the Georgia race had taken place in another country—say, the Republic of Georgia—U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy … Kemp’s asterisk win suggests that the battle for voting rights, which many imagined was over and done with in the last century, is still very much in progress.


In September, “Cost of Voting in the American States” in Election Law Journal tried to quantify how difficult it was to vote in the various states in 2016. This graph summarizes the results:

The pattern is pretty clear: If you find it hard to vote, most likely your state — Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas — is governed by Republicans. (Virginia has since elected a Democratic governor, but he doesn’t have a majority in the legislature. North Carolina might rank higher if the Supreme Court hadn’t invalidated its voter-suppression law. It has since made another try.) The easiest states are more mixed, with red North Dakota and Iowa getting into the top five with blue Oregon and California and purple Colorado. (I think Fair Play is still a Midwestern value, though the South has lost it.)


This graphic captures just how gerrymandered Wisconsin’s state legislature is:

In short, the people of Wisconsin have lost all control of their legislature. Republicans will hold power because that’s just how it is. What the voters want doesn’t matter any more.

Wisconsin’s Republican state legislators are currently discussing whether to use their ill-gotten power to clip the wings of the voters’ newly elected Democratic governor. Following the model of North Carolina after Democrat Roy Cooper won the governorship in 2016, a special lame-duck session of the Wisconsin legislature could pass laws limiting the governor’s power, which current Republican Governor Scott Walker could sign before he leaves office.

Following that 2016 coup, the Electoral Integrity Project (which normally pays attention to third-world countries) stopped rating North Carolina as a democracy. Soon, Wisconsin may not count as a democracy either.

and the Justice Department

The morning after the election, Trump accepted Jeff Sessions’ resignation as Attorney General and replaced him not with either of the two Senate-confirmed subordinates (Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein or Solicitor General Noel Francisco), but with Sessions’ chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, who had previously been described as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department.

The big thing this does is put a Trump loyalist in the role of overseeing the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly whined that Sessions should have “protected” him, rather than following Justice Department regulations and recusing himself from an investigation into activities he had been involved with. Now Trump has an AG who will put him first and the law second.

NYT conservative columnist Bret Stephens comments:

Of all the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency has made America worse, nothing epitomizes it quite so fully as the elevation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Intellectually honest conservatives — the six or seven who remain, at any rate — need to say this, loudly. His appointment represents an unprecedented assault on the integrity and reputation of the Justice Department, the advice and consent function of the Senate, and the rule of law in the United States.

He lists the ways: Whitaker is “unqualified”, “shady”, “a hack”, “a crackpot”, “barely legal”, and “dangerous”.

It says something about how atrocious this appointment is that even Trump is now distancing himself from Whitaker, falsely claiming not to know him despite the latter’s repeated Oval Office visits. It’s the Michael Cohen treatment. When a rat smells a rat, it’s a rat.

A number of questions immediately arise:

  • Is this legal? (Former Solicitor General Neal Katyal and George Conway say no: The appointment of an acting AG who has not been confirmed by the Senate “defies one of the explicit checks and balances set out in the Constitution, a provision designed to protect us all against the centralization of government power.” Stephens says he’s “not fully convinced” by this argument, which is why he called Whitaker “barely legal”.
  • Should Whitaker also be recused from overseeing the Mueller investigation, as Sessions was? Whitaker has a long history of public statements prejudging the Mueller investigation, and has connections to a major witness, Sam Clovis. Whether that legally adds up to recusal under Justice Department guidelines hasn’t been determined yet, though seven major Democrats in Congress have asked the DOJ’s ethics office to review the situation. It seems unlikely that Whitaker will recuse himself, whatever the rules say. Neal Katyal (who helped write the regulations defining a special counsel) also has an opinion on this: “But no one — and I mean no one — ever thought the regulations we wrote would permit the president to install some staff member of his choice from the Justice Department to serve as acting attorney general and thereby oversee the special counsel. Such a proposal would have been laughed off Capitol Hill within a nanosecond as fundamentally at odds with the most cardinal principle that no one is above the law.”
  • Assuming that the point of promoting Whitaker was to screw up the Mueller investigation, what can he do? Benjamin Wittes argues that he can’t do much. We’ll soon see whether he’s right.

and the latest attack on the free press

CNN’s Jim Acosta lost his White House press pass because he asked a question Trump didn’t like. (He challenged Trump’s false characterization of the migrant caravan as “an invasion”.) When Trump said “OK, that’s enough”, a female intern tried to take the microphone away from Acosta, who held up an arm to fend her off (while saying “Pardon me, ma’am.”).

Sarah Sanders later falsely accused Acosta of “laying hands on” the intern, and backed up her claim with a video that was later shown to have been doctored. (The speeded-up version makes Acosta’s arm move look like a blow.) Trump has explicitly threatened to expel other reporters as well.

This is really fascist stuff here, and I don’t think the White House press corps is reacting with the seriousness the incident deserves. Other reporters are certainly condemning the White House move, but they continue going in for briefings.

What the Acosta incident points out is that White House briefings have become Potemkin democracy. The administration spokespeople routinely lie, and if a reporter protests against being lied to, he or she will be ejected. By showing up, reporters become props in a propaganda exercise that falsely projects the appearance of a democratic government facing a free press.

and mass shootings

Less than two weeks after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, we had the Thousand Oaks country-music-bar shooting. I heard someone comment: “We should just leave the flags at half mast all the time.”

Scientific American pushes back against the notion that nothing can be done.

The right gun laws do prevent shootings, research strongly indicates. And these laws do not mean confiscating everybody’s guns. Here are [four] life-saving laws and the data that supports them.

The laws:

  • Require people to apply, in-person, at local law enforcement agencies for gun purchase permits.
  • Ban individuals convicted of any violent crime from gun purchase.
  • Make all serious domestic violence offenders surrender firearms.
  • Temporarily ban gun possession among individuals who have had, in the past five years, two or more convictions for DUI or another crime that indicates alcohol abuse.

None of that would prevent law-abiding people from defending their homes or teaching their children to hunt or doing any other benign gun-related activity.

but I’m trying to figure out the lesson of the mid-term elections

Going into the midterms, there were two theories of how Democrats should try to win:

  • Move to the center to appeal to moderate voters turned off by Trump.
  • Move to the left to inspire non-voters to turn out.

The 2018 election results didn’t settle that argument. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke ran a progressive campaign, got a huge voter turnout, and came closer to beating Ted Cruz than anyone would have thought possible a year ago. In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema ran a centrist race (pledging to be “an independent voice” who would work across party lines) and appears to have won.

Five incumbent Democratic senators in red states — Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin, and Jon Tester — ran as moderates: three lost and two won. (Manchin probably feels good about his vote for Brett Kavanaugh, but Tester is probably also happy with his vote against.)

In governors’ races, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams tested the expand-the-progressive-electorate theory and got very close, though it still appears that they came up short. But in Kansas,

A Democrat, Laura Kelly, reached out to Kansas’ sizable contingent of moderate Republicans and touted the endorsement of two former Republican governors and two former Republican senators.

She won. So progressives and centrists alike can point to successes for their side and failures for the other.

Looking ahead, I believe the best Democratic presidential strategy is to somehow go both ways. (That’s my interpretation of Obama’s 2008 win.) We need a candidate who excites progressives without scaring moderates.


Lawrence Lessig claims the midterms teach a third lesson: Focus on good-government reforms. He attributes Beto’s attraction not to his progressive proposals, but to his commitment to refuse PAC money and rely on small donors. There’s nothing left, right, or centrist about wanting to represent the voters rather than the big donors.

and you also might be interested in …

Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. World leaders gathered in France to mark the occasion, but Trump blew off a ceremony honoring American war dead because it was raining. Chief of Staff John Kelly managed to get there by car.

The incident points out a longer-term issue that belies Trump’s claim to respect our military: He still hasn’t visited troops in a combat zone, claiming he has been “very busy” (though not too busy to play golf most weekends). President Obama had only been in office three months when he visited troops in Iraq, and George W. Bush went to Baghram Air Force Base in Afghanistan on several occasions.


Many observers (most amusingly John Oliver) have pointed out the injustices involved in the cash bail system. This is why California will eliminate cash bail next October. But Michelle Alexander (author of the central book on mass incarceration of black people, The New Jim Crow) points out that some of the obvious ways to replace the bail system have unintended consequences and open up new possibilities for abuse.


Firoozeh Dumas is coming home from Munich and dreads bringing her daughter back to an American public school. It turns out that when a rich country values education more than low taxes, as Germany does, its schools can do amazing things — without bake sales or students going door-to-door selling wrapping paper.


An update on European fascism: Warsaw has an annual fascist march. This year, Poland’s president and prime minister were in it.

In February 2018, National Radical Camp, one of the groups involved in organising tomorrow’s march protested in front of Warsaw’s Presidential Palace demanding the President sign the so-called Holocaust Law — a controversial bill which outlaws blaming Poland or Polish citizens for crimes committed during the Holocaust. They shouted slogans such as “Stop Jewish occupation of Poland” and “Go back to Israel”.

The Guardian reports on Sunday’s march:

Lining up in parallel columns, Polish soldiers stood side-by-side with members of the National-Radical Camp (ONR), the successor to a pre-war Polish fascist movement, and representatives of Forza Nuova, an Italian neo-fascist movement, as they were addressed by [President Andrzej] Duda at the march’s inauguration.

Poland is also considering a ban on “homosexual propaganda” similar to the one Russia imposed in 2013.

Better news: Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party lost big in local elections in major cities.

The results show that Law and Justice can count on only roughly a third of the vote in Poland. If next year’s parliamentary election were held today, the party would be pushed out of power.

In Hungary, though, the Orban government just gets more entrenched. Virtually all the major news outlets have passed into the hands of government allies.

[J]ournalists I met in Budapest were struck by how quickly the press had changed, and that all it took to break this pillar of democracy was a combination of money and fear. “It’s not Russia,” Csaba Lukacs told me. “No one thinks that someone will be shot. Everyone thinks that he will lose his job. It’s enough.”

and let’s close with a post-election meditation

I’ve used this closing before, but I think it’s timely this week. If you got too wrapped up in the election and need to pull back, try this guided meditation.

A Legislative Agenda for House Democrats

Come January, Democrats will control the House of Representatives. Now what?

The obvious answer, of course, is investigate. There is no lack of stuff that needs looking into, beginning with the ways that Trump and his family have used his presidency to make money and continuing through a variety of abuses in the cabinet. Congressional hearings on climate change or on the bungled federal response to Hurricane Maria could bring important facts to the public’s attention. And I think it would be great if the public became aware of all the places American troops are stationed and the low-level conflicts they’re involved in. (When four soldiers died in Niger last year, we shouldn’t have all been scratching our heads about what they’d been doing there.) Unlike the Republican Congress under Obama, Democrats won’t need to manufacture conspiracy theories in order to keep their investigators and subcommittees busy.

But what about legislation? Obviously, the new Democratic House can’t make new laws on its own, but that shouldn’t stop it from passing bills that put an agenda in front of the public. The Republican House did this during the Obama years: It couldn’t repeal ObamaCare by itself, but it passed a series of ObamaCare-repeal bills to put itself on record, and to get repealing ObamaCare into the public debate.

The question is: What kind of agenda? One school of thought says to go big: Medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, and maybe a basic income guarantee. But I wouldn’t start there, for two reasons. First, Republicans would easily unite against those proposals, and enough red-state Democrats might blanch that they wouldn’t pass. I want to hear news reports about Democrats trying to do something in the public interest and Republicans blocking them, not about Democrats arguing with each other over how radical to be. And second, the public still needs to be convinced on those programs. (I know, there are polls saying people like Medicare for All at the slogan level. But an actual bill would have to raise the money to pay for it, and I’m not convinced its popularity would hold once it was coupled with tax increases.)

Instead of trying to sell the public on a progressive agenda, I would suggest gaining the public’s trust by passing bills the public already supports, ones Speaker Ryan and the Republican committee chairs have been blocking. Let’s not start by trying to convince the public to get on our side; let’s start by showing the public we’re on their side. If we do that — particularly if we propose things Trump or congressional Republicans have already paid lip service to — Republican senators will constantly be forced to explain why they aren’t getting on board.

So far that may sound too timid. But it actually leaves room for a fairly broad agenda.

A voting rights bill. As I’ll describe more fully in the next post, the Georgia governor’s election was a sad commentary on the state of American democracy. If Stacey Abrams does indeed lose, as seems likely at this point, there is a very good case that the governorship was stolen by Secretary of State Kemp, who had oversight over his own election and used it to his advantage.

Living in a mostly white, largely professional-class suburb of Boston, I was able to vote in ten minutes. My door-to-door time, including driving to and from the polling place, was about half an hour. But if you are poor or live in a neighborhood that is mostly non-white — especially if you find yourself in a state governed by Republicans — you probably had a very different experience.

Even Americans with partisan leanings usually retain a sense of fair play. (Republican officials like Brian Kemp don’t, but that’s a different issue.) It would be hard to explain opposition to a bill that put limits on voter purges, enforced standards about the number and distribution of polling places, and penalized states where people had to wait hours to vote. The Supreme Court threw out the part of the Voting Rights Act that forced historically racist states to pre-clear election-law changes with the Justice Department. But Chief Justice Roberts’ objections don’t apply if that penalty arises from current rather than historical behavior.

A campaign finance bill. Given how unlikely it is that the Senate would pass anything that limited the political power of the rich, you can argue that it’s silly to worry too much about how the Supreme Court would react to a campaign finance bill. Even so, the bill would have more credibility with the public if it took recent Court decisions into account. If it were obviously doomed in the courts, Mitch McConnell could label the whole effort “political theater” and feel justified in ignoring it.

Two provisions stand out as feasible: first, the DISCLOSE Act, a sunshine bill that would force PACs to reveal the source of their funds and corporations to disclose their political spending, ending the whole “dark money” phenomenon. The Supreme Court already anticipated this in the Citizens United decision. Justice Kennedy wrote:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are “in the pocket” of so-called moneyed interests. The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

Republicans in Congress, though, have blocked such bills in the past.

Second, a tax break to encourage small donations and discourage candidates from accepting big ones. Larry Lessig has proposed

a voucher system, where taxpayers would get a $50 tax refund and use it to donate to congressional candidates who agreed to opt in to the program: If they accepted the vouchers, the only other funds they could take would be individual contributions of $100 or less.

Because Lessig’s plan doesn’t stop rich individuals from donating, it should pass muster even among the money-is-speech justices. Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes has proposed the Government By the People Act to implement a small-donor matching system.

The DREAM Act. A broad majority of the public sympathizes with undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, grew up here, and know no other country. President Obama exempted them from deportation and allowed them work permits in his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, but Trump reversed that order in September, 2017. Courts have temporarily prevented the administration from ending DACA, but its ultimate fate depends on Congress.

The possible deportation of the DREAMers has been a political football ever since. Trump has essentially been holding them hostage, offering them legal status (usually without a path to citizenship) in exchange for Democrats giving in on the rest of his immigration agenda. Because Democrats have refused to pay this ransom, Trump blames them for whatever happens, as extortionists typically do. (“Nice family you got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”)

Passing a version of the DREAM Act (which has been kicking around since 2001 and was passed by the House in 2010) would lay things out clearly: Democrats want to do right by the Dreamers and Republicans don’t.

A government ethics bill. The most popular promise Trump has reneged on is to “drain the Swamp”. Quite the opposite, the Trump administration is the most overtly corrupt since … well, maybe the Grant administration. (Though President Grant himself seems to have been relatively honest and died almost penniless. He wrote his memoirs while dying of cancer in hopes of leaving his family enough to live on.)

Back in September, House Democratic #2 Steny Hoyer suggested what might be in such a bill:

To better police the ethics of elected officials, Hoyer said, Congress should require the president and vice president to make public their most five recent tax returns, ban House members from serving on corporate boards and require House members to link to their personal financial disclosure statements on their House websites. Hoyer also called for giving subpoena power to the Office of Government Ethics, which polices executive branch personnel.

I think it’s also important to slow down the “revolving door” between government and regulated industries. Formulating exact rules here is tricky, because people who leave either Congress or some executive-branch office need to be able to continue their careers somehow. But it’s unseemly for an individual to have power over an industry and then take a high-paying job inside it. (Both sides do this. When Eric Holder stopped being Obama’s attorney general, he went back to his previous law firm, which represents “many of the large banks Holder declined to prosecute for their alleged role in the financial crisis”.) Even when everyone involved has good intentions, the appearance of corruption undermines public confidence in government.

The Chris Collins case shows how low the bar currently is. Rep. Collins, a New York Republican who was re-elected Tuesday while under indictment, became the largest investor in Innate Immunotherapies, a company whose activities fell within the scope of a committee he served on, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. While continuing to serve on that subcommittee, he joined the company’s board of directors, and encouraged members of his family and other congressmen to buy its stock. All that was legal. He didn’t get into trouble until he used the inside information he got as a board member to warn his relatives to sell before certain bad news became public.

A health care bill. Health care was the main issue Democrats ran on. To a large extent, they pledged just to prevent bad things from happening: They’d block Republicans from cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and from further sabotaging ObamaCare.

But if that’s all they do, the public will have a right to feel disappointed. They should also do at least two positive things: pass a bill that would allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and lower health insurance premiums for millions of Americans by shoring up ObamaCare.

Trump campaigned on the drug-price-negotiation issue, and before taking office he accused pharmaceutical companies of “getting away with murder“. But while it would be false to say he had done nothing on this issue, his limited steps in this direction (which haven’t taken effect yet) mainly just mean that the companies will get away with fewer murders.

That’s not entirely his fault. When the Bush administration added prescription drug coverage to Medicare, the bill included a provision preventing the government from negotiating drug prices. Everything the current administration has done has to fit within that law. But Trump never pushed the Republican Congress to change that law, and it hasn’t.

If Democrats did repeal that provision, it would put both Trump and many Senate Republicans on the spot: You said you were for this, and here it is. Will you support it?

There’s also broad public agreement that ObamaCare subsidies aren’t big enough and taper off too quickly. For people just above the income cut-off for subsidies, the policies are still pretty expensive. Trump’s solution to this problem has been to re-introduce junk insurance: short-term policies aimed at healthy people. In the long run, these plans create more problems than they solve: If people on temporary insurance do turn up expensive long-term health problems, they’ll quickly find themselves in trouble. And draining healthy people out of the ObamaCare system raises premiums for those who have to stay.

But rejecting Trump’s solution doesn’t mean that Democrats should ignore the problem that makes many lower-middle-class people like the junk-insurance option. A Democratic health care bill should expand the ObamaCare subsidies to put the “affordable” back in the Affordable Care Act.

Where should the money come from? How about helping Trump implement another one of the campaign promises he seems to have forgotten: cutting tax loopholes that only the very rich can take advantage of. The poster child of plutocratic tax breaks is the carried interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers to treat ordinary income like capital gains. Trump campaigned against it, but his big tax bill did nothing to change it.

That’s a pattern. The tax code is more riddled than ever with breaks for the very wealthy. Democrats should target a bunch of them and say: “This is how we can afford to lower health insurance premiums.”

A gun control bill. A fairly short and simple bill could collect proposals that are already popular with the public and have been implemented already in some states: universal background checks, an assault weapon ban, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

LGBTQ rights. Nancy Pelosi has already promised a high priority to the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected characteristics in existing federal civil rights legislation. The Religious Right is already huffing and puffing about this, but I don’t think they represent a majority of the public.

An infrastructure bill. Another unfulfilled Trump campaign promise was a trillion-dollar plan to create jobs by rebuilding the nation’s public infrastructure, which everyone agrees could use the upgrade. After considerable delay, what he finally proposed was largely smoke and mirrors: a “framework” whose details were never filled in. He crowed that it would lead to $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, but it contained only $200 billion in federal money, spread over ten years; the rest was supposed to come from state/local governments and the private sector.

There were two immediate problems:

Democrats were skeptical of what the public/private partnerships might give away: Do we really want our public infrastructure winding up in the hands of private corporations? (Picture the interstate highway system working like cable TV.) The framework’s proposal to “streamline” and “shorten” the permitting process by removing “regulatory barriers” might simply be a way to gut federal environmental protections.

In short, the idea that there’s a deal to be made here seems naive. Yes, Trump and the Democrats both want new infrastructure, but as soon as you add any details at all, there’s not much overlap in their visions.

So House Democrats should act as if Trump’s framework never existed, and should propose a plan of direct federal spending on infrastructure. Where should the money come from? If the Senate has already shelved the ObamaCare plan mentioned above, Democrats could re-use the plutocratic tax breaks I talked about then.

But there is a bolder plan that also makes sense (even if it does violate some of the principles I discussed at the top): tie infrastructure spending to a carbon tax.

 

In short, while bolder initiatives are always possible, there is low-hanging fruit that can be picked first. The stump speeches of conservative politicians like Sarah Palin often invoke the phrase “common sense solutions”. Passing the proposals I’ve listed, I think, would do a lot to take that phrase back.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Republicans will gain in the Senate, but in the House the Blue Wave came, leaving Democrats in control. What to do with this new power? Investigate the administration, obviously, but what about legislating? The House can’t pass laws by itself, but it can show the country what a new agenda would look like. I’ll discuss my suggestions in “A Legislative Agenda for House Democrats”. That should be out by 10 EST.

I had expected the weekly summary mainly to sum up the election results, but that plan didn’t account for the Trump-era news cycle. Already, Jeff Sessions has been replaced with a loyalist hack, we had yet another mass shooting, Trump has begun purging the White House press corps, and he embarrassed our nation in France. It never stops. (I long for a 2020 candidate who will pledge to Make Government Boring Again.)

I’ll cover all that, discuss developments in European fascism, and see if I can figure out where Tuesday’s election results point the Democrats as we look to 2020. That should appear by noon.

 

Where the Party Ends

This is where the party ends.
I can’t stand here listening to you
and your racist friend.

– “Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants

This week’s featured posts are “Why I’m Voting Straight Democratic“, “How the Midterm Elections Look with One Day to Go“, and “An hour-by-hour Guide to Election Night 2018“.

This week everybody was talking about tomorrow’s elections

The featured posts probably already go on at too much length, so I’ll not add to them here.

and birthright citizenship

One way Trump interrupts a news cycle that is going badly for him — like his rhetoric inspiring assassination attempts and an anti-Semitic massacre — is to make an outrageous proposal. This time the proposal was to undo an important part of the 14th Amendment by executive order. The 14th Amendment says:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The legal reasoning to circumvent this clear statement is pretty much of a sham. Garrett Epps explains:

The citizenship-denial lobby has focused on the words subject to the jurisdiction. Its members argue that citizens of foreign countries, even if they live in the U.S., are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and thus their children are not covered by the clause. To test this idea, ask yourself: If a foreign citizen rear-ends your car on your drive home today, will you, or the police, allow him to drive away on the grounds that a foreign citizen cannot be arrested, ticketed, or sued?
Foreign citizens are “subject to the jurisdiction” of our police and courts when they are in the U.S., whether as tourists, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants. Only one group is not “subject to the jurisdiction”—accredited foreign diplomats and their families, who can be expelled by the federal government but not arrested or tried.That’s who the framers of the clause were discussing in Section 1—along with one other group. In 1866, when the amendment was framed, Indians living under tribal rule were not U.S. citizens.

The idea that the authors of the 14th Amendment meant to exclude children of “illegal immigrants” from citizenship is anachronistic, because the term made no sense in 1866. The federal government wouldn’t have any immigration rules to speak of until the Page Act of 1875, which kept Chinese women out of the US.

Coverage of Trump’s claim fell into the “both sides” trap.

By reporting that an outlandish legal argument is, in fact, one on which “reasonable minds disagree,” journalists do not simply mislead their readers. They literally can change the outcome of a case raising that outlandish legal argument. They create space for judges who are sympathetic to Trump to reach the decision Trump wants. And they create an aura of legitimacy over such a decision even if it has no basis in law.

and Brazil

The global swing towards fascism continues. A combination of recession, corruption, and high crime led Brazilian voters to elect Jair Bolsonaro to be their president, starting January 1.

The opposition to Bolsonaro has been driven by his numerous discriminatory comments on race, gender and sexual orientation, as well as remarks in favour of torture and Brazil’s former military dictatorship, in power from 1964 to 1985, which have angered and alarmed millions of Brazilians.

Bolsonaro has described having a daughter as a “weakness”, told a congresswoman she was “too ugly” to be raped, claimed some black people were not “even good for procreation”, and said he would rather one of his four sons “die in an accident” than be gay.

and you also might be interested in …

Chris Hayes’ Why Is This Happening? podcast has the kind of depth that his weekend show used to. (Since moving to weeknights, he’s had to be more headline-oriented.) The Oct. 30 edition is an interview with Michael Tesler, co-author of Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.


Iran sanctions are back.


The emoluments lawsuit reaches the discovery phase. This is important, because it means that the plaintiffs will get to look behind the curtain into some of the Trump Organization’s books. Judge’s decision.

and let’s close with something unusual

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, break dancers perform in medieval armor. I don’t know what it means, but it looks cool.

An hour-by-hour guide to Election Night 2018

[A general overview of the elections is in the previous post.]

Because states close their polls at different times and count the votes at different rates, Election Night always produces the illusion of a horse race. You could just go to bed early tomorrow night and find out Wednesday what happened. The information that trickles out minute-by-minute is not actually useful to you.

But lots of us love a good horse race, and many of the rest of us won’t be able to sleep well until we know how the important races come out. So I’m going to a returns-watching party, and I suspect many of you will be glued to your TV sets as well. Here’s what to look for hour by hour.

Before 7 p.m.

[All times are Eastern Standard. You can do the math to adjust for where you live.]

No polls close before 6, and no entire state closes its polls before 7. So by common agreement, none of the networks will report their exit polls or project any races before 7. The only point in turning on your TV before 6 is if you’re just too anxious to do anything else.

If you do tune in, though, you can sometimes glean a little information indirectly. The commentators have been getting exit poll results all day, and while they can’t tell you what those results say, they aren’t obligated to say anything that will make them look stupid when the results start coming out. So if they’re having a what-if conversation, like “What if young voters do (or don’t) turn out in record numbers?” chances are that will turn out to mean something. Commentators will be trying to lay down some themes that they expect the election results to fill out.

You will also hear some “party officials are worrying about X” comments. (One of the first signs things were going badly for Democrats in 2016 was when I heard a Democrats-are-worried-about-black-turnout-in-Cleveland conversation.) Officials are worried because they’ve seen something to worry about.

At 6 EST, the first results will come in from the eastern-time-zone parts of Kentucky and Indiana. Maybe you’ll find out something about the Indiana Senate race, which supposedly is leaning towards Democrat Joe Donnelly. But unless you know a lot about Indiana, those early returns won’t tell you too much, because exit polls can’t be released until the central-time-zone parts of those states close their polls at 7.

7 p.m.

Polls close in Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.

There’s no chance that control of Congress will be decided before California closes its polls at 11, and if there are a lot of close races it may take much longer. So in general, what you’re looking for in the early results is the unexpected: A close race that wasn’t supposed to be close, or an surprisingly easy win somewhere. Early elections are linked in some probabilistic way to later elections, so a surprise that favors one party or the other is a sign that surprises might keep favoring that party for the rest of the evening.

You’re also looking for trends in the state exit polls that might turn out to be national trends: Did young people vote? Are Hispanics turning out? Are women outvoting men?

The only really close Senate race in this bunch is in Indiana. Probably it won’t be clear for hours who won, but if it is, the winning party is off to a good start.

Virginia has two toss-up House races: Brat vs. Spanberger in VA-7 and Riggleman vs. Cockburn in VA-5. Those could be bellwethers for the country. In VA-10, Democrat Jennifer Wexton is expected to knock off incumbent Republican Barabara Comstock. That might be the first good news of the evening.

Kentucky-6, Andy Barr against Amy McGrath, is also rated a toss-up. As I explained in the previous post, Democrats can take the House (barely) without winning any toss-ups. But this would be a nice one to get. Georgia-6, where Republican Karen Handel won a close special election last year, is also a toss-up.

One of the most interesting governor races in the country is Abrams vs. Kemp in Georgia. That race has been all about race, so the election hinges on who actually votes. Big turnout, especially big turnout among blacks, favors Abrams.

7:30 p.m.

Polls close in North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia.

It’s interesting that a swing state like Ohio has no toss-up House races, a sign that districts are drawn badly. West Virginia’s three districts are all predicted to go for Republicans. North Carolina-9, Harris vs. McCready, is a toss-up.

In the West Virginia, Joe Manchin is expected to hang on to one of the Democrats’ most improbable Senate seats. If he doesn’t, the slim hopes of Democrats winning a Senate majority are pretty much finished.

Ohio has a competitive governor’s race, with just the slightest of edges to Democrat Richard Cordray.

8 p.m.

This is when things get serious. Polls close in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Claire McCaskill’s Senate seat in Missouri is one the Democrats need if they’re going to have any chance of a Senate majority. Democratic wins in the Mississippi or Tennessee Senate races would be upsets, but Democrats need an upset somewhere. New Jersey is a solidly blue state this year, but Senator Bob Menendez has had a long series of near-misses with corruption scandals. He’s expected to win, but the race will be much closer than it should be.

Several interesting House races are in this batch. Maine-2 has been an expensive battle that seems to be leaning to Democrat Jared Golden. A court-ordered redistricting has partially ungerrymandered Pennsylvania, giving Democrats several chances to pick up Republican seats. The toss-up is PA-1, with polls giving a slight advantage to the Republican. In PA-17, Conor Lamb, who won a special election last year, is up against another incumbent, Keith Rothfus. Lamb is expected to win.

IL-6, MI-7 are toss-ups.

8:30 p.m.

Arkansas closes its polls. The four House seats and the governorship are all expected to go to Republicans. No Senate race.

9 p.m.

Polls close in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

By now the shape of the evening should be coming into focus. Either there’s a Democratic rout going on in the House and the Senate is a nail-biter for Republicans, or it’s pretty clear Republicans will hang onto the Senate and the House is going to go down to the wire.

The close Senate races are in Arizona and Texas. Beto upsetting Ted Cruz is considered unlikely, but if it happens it’s the story of the night. Kansas and Wisconsin have close governors’ races.

MN-1, NEB-2, NM-2, and TX-7 are toss-up House races.

10 p.m.

Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah.

Montana’s and Nevada’s Senate races are ones the Democrats need to have. In Iowa-4, Congress’ closest thing to an open white nationalist, Steve King, is expected to be re-elected. But he’s gotten bad publicity late, so you never know.

11 p.m.

North Dakota, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington.

If it’s a good night for Democrats and the Senate is still in play, it probably comes down to Heidi Heitkamp’s seat in North Dakota.

If Republicans are doing better than expected, control of the House will probably hinge on CA-39 and CA-48. California has a lot of mail-in ballots that only need to be postmarked by Election Day, so these races could be in doubt into next week.

1 a.m.

Alaska.

If Don Young’s seat in Alaska is in doubt, odds are the Democrats have already nailed down the House.

Past 1 a.m.

At this point all the votes have been cast and all the exit polls published. We just have to wait for the counting. Probably either the House or the Senate (but probably not both) will be in doubt well into the wee hours.

How the Midterm Elections Look With One Day to Go

The most important figure in tomorrow’s election is actually not on the ballot. No matter what happens, Wednesday morning Trump will still be president. This election isn’t about getting rid of Trump, it’s about controlling him. If Democrats get the majority in  one or both houses of Congress, the country will finally get some of the checks-and-balances that the Founders thought they had written into our Constitution.

Getting rid of Trump will still depend either on the 2020 elections, or on turning up evidence of impeachable offenses so compelling that more than a dozen Republican senators will be convinced.

The Senate

Republicans currently have a 51-49 majority. Tomorrow 35 seats are up for election, so on the surface you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard for Democrats to flip two seats and take control. (They need two, because Vice President Pence casts the deciding vote in a 50-50 Senate.)

However, 26 of the contested seats already belong to Democrats, so even if they hold all those, they have to flip 2 of the 9 Republican seats. It’s a tall order. (“Why did things shake out that way?” you might wonder. That’s because 2006 — when the public finally turned against the Iraq War — was a huge Democratic year, when Democrats like Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Jon Tester in Montana won seats in very red states. 2012 was Obama’s re-election year, so they managed to hold onto those seats. 2010 and 2014, by contrast, were strong years for Republicans.)

538 gives Democrats only a 1 in 6 chance of pulling this off. Here’s how it rates the individual races:

  • 18 are solid for Democrats, meaning the Democrat has at least a 95% chance to win.
  • 4 (Smith in Minnesota, Tester in Montana, Menendez in New Jersey, Manchin in West Virginia) are likely Democratic wins, with a win likelihood over 75%.
  • 3 (Nelson in Florida, Donnelly in Indiana, McCaskill in Missouri) lean Democratic, with a 60% or better win probability.
  • 2 (Sinema in Arizona, Rosen in Nevada) are toss-ups, though in each case the Democrat has a slight edge.

Already, winning all of those at the same time seems unlikely. If each race were independent of the others, for example, winning all four of the “likely” seats would only be about a 2 out of 3 bet. All three leaning seats together would be less than 1 in 3, and the two toss-ups together would be 1 in 4. (Actual combined probabilities are quite a bit higher than that, because the races are not independent rolls of the dice. As we saw with Trump’s victory in 2016, the party that wins close races in one state is more likely to win close races in another.)

Worse, all those seats together add up to just 27. In order to take control of the Senate, Democrats would need an upset in the only lean-Republican seat: North Dakota, where incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has only a 25% chance of hanging on. If she can’t pull that off, Democrats need one of the likely-Republican seats:

  • Beto O’Rourke in Texas (23%)
  • Phil Bredesen in Tennessee (20%)
  • Mike Espy in Mississippi (12%)

Unless at least one of those longshots comes in, Republicans hold control of the Senate. (Again, the races aren’t independent, which is how the odds for a Democratic majority can be as high as 1 in 6.)

The House

Democrats gaining control of the House is a much more doable job. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are in play. Republicans currently have a 235-193 majority, with 7 seats vacant. Of the vacancies, two were formerly Democratic and five Republican. So you will sometimes hear that in order to gain a majority Democrats need to pick up 23 seats (if you count two of the vacancies as Democratic seats) or 25 seats (if you don’t).

In order to get a majority (218 out of 435), Democrats need only win the seats 538 rates as leaning their way:

  • 193 solid Democratic
  • 17 likely
  • 10 leaning

That adds up to 220. In addition, there are 18 toss-ups and 13 lean-Republican seats within range. Overall, that gives Democrats a 7 in 8 chance of winning the House. If everything breaks in their favor, they could have as large a majority as the Republicans have now.

House races, though, are unlikely to all go according to script. First, there are just so many of them that some longshot candidate is going to win somewhere. And second, House races aren’t polled as aggressively as Senate races, so some last-minute local factors could be overlooked. Somewhere, a district the media stopped paying attention to months ago is going to produce an upset.

As I’ll discuss in the hour-by-hour guide (the next post), you want to watch for toss-up or leaning seats in states where the polls close early. That will give the first indication of whether this is going to be a nail-biter or an easy Democratic win.

Governorships and state legislatures

If Democrats gain some governorships and control of some state legislatures, they’ll have a chance to undo the extreme gerrymandering that allows Republicans to maintain minority rule. (Last year, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 9% in the elections for the Virginia House of Delegates. But Republicans kept control.)

State government becomes more important as the federal government stops protecting civil rights and the environment. And if the now-more-conservative-than-ever Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, whether a woman can get an abortion may be up to the states.

Governors are being elected in 36 states, and at least some legislators are being elected in every state. 538 expects Republicans to win slightly more states (winding up with 26 governorships), but Democrats to wind up governing a larger percentage of the population (62%).

The closest races are in Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, and Kansas. The two most interesting races, to me anyway, are Georgia and Florida, where Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum have a chance to be their states’ first black governors. (Abrams would be the first black woman governor in any state.) Abrams’ race is leaning towards her opponent, while 538 gives Gillum a 76% chance to win. Personally, I will find it very satisfying if Wisconsin finally boots out Koch puppet Scott Walker, which is the way the race is leaning.

As for state legislatures, I don’t know what to tell you, since there are very few published polls.

Ballot propositions

538 has a good rundown of the most important ones.

In general, ballot propositions cause more problems than they solve. There’s a reason we elect representatives who can focus on the issues full-time, rather settle everything by direct democracy. But in states that are heavily gerrymandered, or where running for office requires the kind of money you can only get from special interests, a ballot proposition might be the only way for the majority to make its will felt.

Michigan is one of those heavily-gerrymandered states.

Last year, Michigan Democrats won more overall votes for state House than Republicans. It was by a whisper, about half of one percentage point. But Democrats got walloped in the race that counts, as the GOP swept 63 of 110 seats.

Proposition 2 would create a non-partisan commission to draw districts for both the legislature and Michigan’s congressional districts. The commission would be given strict criteria to meet. Other anti-gerrymandering proposals are on the ballot in Colorado, Utah, and Missouri.

Given the racial biases in our justice system and the correspondingly high incarceration rate for non-whites, one way to make sure whites hold onto political power as long as possible is to keep felons from voting, even after they have served their sentences. Florida is one of the worst states for this form of voter suppression, with 10% of the voting-age population disenfranchised. Amendment 4 would give felons back their voting rights after their sentences end, except for murderers and sex offenders. (Yes, that is the proposition John Oliver was telling you about.)

Nevada, Maryland, and Michigan have propositions that would make it easier to register to vote, while Arkansas and North Carolina would make it harder to vote by requiring a photo ID.

A California proposition would repeal a number of gas taxes. A Washington proposition would create a carbon tax. Arizona’s Prop 127 would force utilities to get half their power from renewable energy by 2030.

Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah all have propositions to expand Medicaid.

Here in Massachusetts, the proposition I care most about is #3, which would protect transgender rights. I’m for it.

Why I’m Voting Straight Democratic

I’m definitely voting. But if you’re willing to run under the banner of today’s Republican Party, I can’t vote for you.


I didn’t used to be like this.

Only a few years ago, I was a meticulous voter. I’d examine each race and think hard about the individual candidates, looking for the best combination of personal character and positions on the important issues. There was a time when if I didn’t know anything about the candidates for some down-ballot office, I might leave that line blank, figuring that better-informed people should make the choice.

I don’t do that any more. Tomorrow I’m going to vote a straight Democratic ticket, including voting for and against candidates I’ve never heard of. If not for the ballot questions — I’m still meticulous about them — I’d be in and out of the voting booth in seconds.

It’s not that I think the Democratic Party is perfect. I expect that most of the Democrats I vote for will be good public servants, and will mostly promote policies I agree with. But some of the rest, I’m sure, will simply be the lesser evil. I’ve made my peace with that. I just know that they are the best hope to defeat Republicans, and Republicans need to be defeated. I can’t vote for Republicans any more.

That wasn’t always true. In my first presidential election, 1976, voting for Jerry Ford over Jimmy Carter was a real option, because I expected the country to be in decent hands no matter who won. (I dithered between the two before eventually picking a third party candidate.) Decades ago, when I was living in Massachusetts the first time, I voted for Bill Weld to be governor. He seemed like a straightforward, honest, intelligent guy. Eventually I even developed the rule-of-thumb that I would default to the Republican if I didn’t know who to vote for, figuring that only a really good Republican could win in my liberal district. When I moved to more conservative New Hampshire, I flipped that reasoning and defaulted to Democrats.

But now that I’m back in liberal Massachusetts, I’m not voting Republican for any office, no matter how trivial. In any state in the Union, I would do the same.

Have I changed? Not nearly so much as the Republican Party has. Today’s Republicans are not like the Republicans of the past, even the recent past. Today, the GOP is the party of climate change denial, discrimination against gays, gerrymandering, and baseless conspiracy theories. It’s the party that opposes the minimum wage, the party that cuts rich people’s taxes and then goes after middle-class Medicare when their tax cut creates an artificial budget crisis. (The middle-class tax cut Trump promised last week is vaporware: There is no such proposal, and once the election is over you will never hear about it again, except possibly as a cover story for another handout to the rich.)

Even worse, today’s Republican Party is a comfortable home for white supremacist fellow travelers like Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Open racists like David Duke or Richard Spencer endorse Republicans. White supremacist groups campaign for Republicans. If you want to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, you go to the networks and web sites that Republicans frequent. If you’re an abuser of women, Democrats will probably throw you out, but Republicans will circle the wagons around you. If you favor something as offensive to human compassion as the death penalty for gays, Republicans will embrace you.

If you are happy carrying that party’s banner, I can’t vote for you.

And then there’s Trump. (I covered in detail what I think of Trump last week.) Back in 1990, They Might Be Giants recorded a song that starts like this:

This is where the party ends.
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend.

To me, racist is a stand-in for all sorts of bigoted positions: anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic, sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and just generally anti-everybody-who’s-not-a-white-straight-Evangelical-Christian. For every Republican candidate in the country, Trump is the bigoted friend that they can tolerate, but I can’t. For me, that’s where the party ends.

Your local Republican candidate might sound fairly reasonable from time to time. Lots of Republicans do: Paul Ryan occasionally tut-tuts when Trump says something particularly ridiculous or odious. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have spoken up now and then. (And both retired from the Senate when they realized that even their minimal criticisms had excommunicated them from the Trump personality cult the GOP has turned into. As Flake put it: “There may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party.”)

But in practical terms, what has any Republican official done to stand in Trump’s way? 538 models how often you’d expect a senator to vote with Trump, given Trump’s electoral margin in his or her state. Flake was actually considerably more likely to vote with Trump than the model predicted, and Susan Collins even moreso. What have any of them done to fight back, and reclaim their party for reasonable conservatism?

When push comes to shove, elected Republicans have all gotten in line behind Trump. Sometimes they’ve made a big public show of how hard the decision was (like Susan Collins supporting Trump’s tax cut, or Collins and Flake voting to elevate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court), but they’ve gotten in line. They’ve blocked congressional investigations of collusion with Russia or any other administration wrongdoing, and they’ve harassed any Justice Department investigations that Trump found inconvenient. Cabinet-level malefactors like Ryan Zinke rest easy knowing that Republicans in both houses of Congress have their back.

Rather than stand up for the principles they used to claim, Republicans who ought to know better have drunk the Kool-Aid. Ted Cruz is now embracing the man who insulted his wife and accused his father of conspiring to assassinate JFK. Lindsey Graham once understood that Trump is a “race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot”. Now he’s the most rabid of Trumpists, frothing at the mouth to defend Brett Kavanaugh and offering unconstitutional legislation to back Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship.

I’ll just sit here wondering how you
can stand by your racist friend.

The only conservatives who have consistently held their ground against Trump are writers rather than politicians: Michael Gerson, George Will, Max Boot. All of them have urged their readers to vote for Democrats this time around. Boot writes:

Some Republicans in suburban districts may claim they aren’t for Trump. Don’t believe them. Whatever their private qualms, no Republicans have consistently held Trump to account. They are too scared that doing so will hurt their chances of reelection.

Friday, Jennifer Rubin wrote:

The midterm elections have therefore become all about Trump, about whether he’s “winning” or “paying a price” for his descent into rancor, racism and misogyny. Suddenly the real “values voters” are those who care deeply about values such as kindness, democracy, rationality and respect. If they show up and vote their values, Republicans are in big trouble.

Finally, you can see the difference between the parties in the closing arguments they are making as the election approaches: Democrats are talking about making your health insurance more secure, particularly if you’re on Medicare or have a pre-existing condition. They’re talking about student debt, climate change, voting rights, and protecting the civil rights of those whose rights are actually in question: women, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ community.

Republicans, by contrast, are closing with an issue that is almost entirely imaginary: the “threat” posed by several thousand migrants fleeing the violence of Honduras. Many of the caravaners are women and children, and the Pentagon believes most of them will never get here. Far from an “invasion”, the expressed intention of the much-hyped caravan is to surrender to US officials and ask for the asylum hearings that both international and American law promise them. (Instead, Trump is offering them a glittering symbol of the new MAGA Republic: “Barbed wire used properly,” he assures his cultists, “can be a beautiful sight.”)

There is no military issue whatsoever, so Trump’s dispatch of 5,000 (or is it 15,000?) troops to the border is pure theater — theater that will waste soldiers’ time and could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The conspiracy theories that Trump is using to justify this stunt have already inspired domestic terrorists like the MAGA mail bomber and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.

If that’s what you like — imaginary crises, conspiracy theories, money flowing from the middle class to the rich, race-baiting, voter suppression, abuse of women, and an ever more vigorous and violent white-supremacist movement — then vote Republican. You’re sure to get more of it.

But if that’s not what you want out of government, then the Republican Party as it stands today must fall. Voters need to reject it root and branch.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So the midterm elections are tomorrow. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that this week’s Sift is going to focus on them.

It starts with what I’m going to do personally: “Why I’m Voting Straight Democratic” will be out before 9 EST. The short version: What the Republican Party stands for has become so toxic that if you’re comfortable running as a Republican, I can’t vote for you.

Next will come two posts that I hope you’ll find useful tomorrow night, assuming you decide to watch the election returns. The first is “How the Midterm Elections Look With One Day to Go”. It goes through the polling, what Democrats need to accomplish to get either a House or Senate majority, some of the important governor’s races, and a few of the more interesting ballot questions. That should be out before 11.

The second is “An hour-by-hour Guide to the Midterm Elections”. I’ll go through Tuesday night hour-by-hour with an eye to what polls close when and which races to focus on to see how the evening is going. Think of it as the program for your Tuesday night return-watching party. I’m hoping to get that out by noon.

The weekly summary will be short this week. It should be out by 1.

Souls in Darkness

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.

– Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

This week’s featured post is “12 Things to Remember Before You Vote“. That’s extra-long, so I’ll try to keep this shorter than usual.

This week everybody was talking about right-wing political violence

The window stickers on the mail-bomb suspect’s van window.

It’s hard to know which nightmare to discuss first: the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate 11 Democratic or liberal leaders, including two former presidents, with mail bombs, or the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that really did kill 11 people. One, if it had succeeded, would have been the worst single wave of political violence in America since the KKK attacks during Reconstruction. The other raises the specter of the world’s most persistent and virulent strain of hatred: anti-Semitism.

Focusing on either one ignores a crime that should ring similar alarm bells: A white man killed two black shoppers at a suburban Louisville grocery store, only minutes after trying to enter a black church and finding it locked. “Just to think that an hour and a half earlier we had 70 people in the church,” church administrator Billy Williams said.

In each case, you can look for causes in the psychology of the individuals involved, and undoubtedly you will find something. Individuals are responsible for their own actions. But at the same time, you have to ask “Why now?” In just about all times and places, I suspect, there have been angry misfits who fantasized about acts of violence against whichever people or groups they blamed for their misfortunes. But now, for some reason, the ineffable membrane between violent thought and violent action seems thinner than at any time since the riots and assassinations of 1968. Why?

To me, the answer seems obvious: The President of the United States devotes a great deal of his time and effort to spreading fear-raising conspiracy theories and labeling his critics as enemies of the nation. It’s not a coincidence that the mail-bombing suspect had turned the van he lived in into a Trump shrine. Or that the synagogue shooter saw the immigrants in the caravan crossing Mexico as “invaders“, and blamed Jews like George Soros for funding it. (The suspect in the synagogue shooting, to be fair, was not a Trump supporter. He believed many conspiracy theories Trump and the right-wing media helped spread, but blamed Trump for letting his daughter convert to Judaism and marry a Jew. “Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” Trump, in other words, is not MAGA enough for him.)

Trump’s defenders (like Hugh Hewitt) want to do a both-sides argument, lumping together right-wing murder and assassination attempts with liberals who refuse to serve Trump officials, or assail them verbally when they appear in public, like when Sarah Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen Restaurant in Virginia.

These things are not the same“, Jennifer Rubin points out.

Violence is sending bombs to President Trump’s political targets. Violence is body-slamming a reporter who dares to ask a question. Violence is driving a car into a crowd, killing a young woman. Violence is killing unarmed African American youths. Violence is wife beating, sexual assault and child molestation (not demanding that accused wife beaters and sexual predators be held accountable and at the very least disqualified from high office.) Violence is forcibly separating young children from their parents (not calling out such treatment as inhumane).

Violence is not refusing to serve a White House press secretary dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant. It is not yelling at people in restaurants. It is not making mean jokes at a charity event. It is not peacefully occupying a government building to protest.

Hewitt is basically calling for a Henry II standard, which would have held the King blameless for asking “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” shortly before someone killed Thomas Beckett.

But we don’t have a both-sides problem. We have an outbreak of right-wing violence that the president encourages.


Brian Klaas sums it up in a tweet-storm that starts like this:

There have always been violent extremists. But when attacks happened under Reagan or Clinton or Bush or Obama, you couldn’t point to insane anti-Semitic conspiracy theories they had recently spread. They didn’t praise neo-Nazis. They didn’t call reporters “enemy of the people”


I wish I had something insightful to say about the rising anti-Semitism, but I don’t get it. Most popular American bigotries make sense to me at some level: I can imagine the frame-of-mind of the people who hold those hatreds, point to personal experiences that I could have interpreted to fit those biases, and so on.

But the idea that the random Jews you can find by wandering into a synagogue are somehow to blame for America’s problems or my own … I just don’t get it. I don’t even know how to argue against it, because a mind that holds that thought seems foreign to me.

It doesn’t help that I have a tangential connection: The brother of one of the victims goes to my Unitarian church.

and caravans

When other networks were covering the bombs mailed to Democratic leaders, Fox and the rest of the conservative media was trying to flog the immigrant caravan story. The best discussion of this issue I found was from Beau of the Fifth Column:

but remember to vote

President Obama has no patience for your excuses.

and you also might be interested in …

The Washington Post published a gripping first-person account of an asylum-seeking woman who was separated from her 15-year-old daughter for nearly five months. The needless cruelty here is very striking.

Another WaPo article by former DHS adviser Scott Shuchart describes what was happening inside DHS when the family-separation policy was being implemented: He describes extreme levels of internal dysfunction and dishonesty, but mostly malfeasance by the political appointees, who were often warned ahead of time (by the career civil servants) of the problems they were about to cause.

But most culpable were the high-level appointees, unwilling to take ownership of what they’d decided to do; lying to their staffs in the expectation that nobody really cared what happened to poor Central American kids; cynical about the notion that most of us who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution actually mean it. I cast about for more to do, but within a month of that June meeting, I realized there was no way to keep my oath and my job.


A new study shows that a minimum-wage worker would need 2.5 jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment.


Megyn Kelly is done at NBC’s Today show, after defending white people wearing blackface on Halloween.

I can’t say I have a lot of sympathy for either Kelly or NBC in this spat. NBC knew what it was getting with Kelly: someone who may not be aggressively racist, but has been consistently racially insensitive. In 2013, for example, Kelly jumped into a discussion about black Santa Clauses and said:

For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. … Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. … He was a historical figure. That was a verifiable fact.

As I explained at the time, this was not just insensitive, it was ignorant. (Most likely, neither Saint Nicholas nor Jesus was white enough to get service at a Jim Crow lunch counter.) Kelly has a sharp mind, but she also has an oblivious white-people-are-the-center-of-the-universe worldview that she has never bothered to educate herself out of. When NBC hired her, that was already a verifiable fact.

You probably already understand why blackface is inappropriate Halloween makeup for whites, but I feel obligated to spell it out: It’s more the history of the thing than the thing itself. By wearing blackface, whites place themselves in the tradition of the minstrel show. You may think you’re honoring Martin Luther King or Barack Obama or whoever you’re supposed to be, but your intention is not the controlling factor. (Wearing an Obama mask, by contrast, does not evoke minstrelsy, and can be OK if done with respect.)

As I’ve tried to explain on several occasions, some words and symbols have such a strong historical resonance that your innocent intention can’t salvage them. You may believe a swastika just looks cool, and weren’t thinking about Nazism at all when you got that tattoo. It doesn’t matter; the symbol has a meaning independent of your intention.


In the Washington Post on Tuesday, Monica Hesse summed up what I’m now thinking about transgender policy and a lot of other sex-and-gender-related issues: Why exactly do we need to know what genitalia other people have, or what exactly they do with their biological equipment when they’re with consenting adults?

Hesse was responding to a leaked HHS proposal to define transgenderism out of existence:

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

Other than the fact that it wouldn’t work because life is not that simple, there’s the question of what the policy is trying to accomplish. Hesse writes:

The most charitable interpretation for the government’s proposal is that we humans, as a species, have a need to organize things, and put them in categories. That we are uncomfortable with the unknown, and uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. That our aversion to this is so strong that we would rather ask unspeakably rude questions to strangers — So, are you a boy or a girl? So, who’s the wife in your same-sex relationship? — than accept that there are things we don’t need or deserve to know.

What if we allowed ourselves to remain uncomfortable? What if, instead of looking at other humans as something to be categorized, we saw in them a chance to appreciate the vastness of humanity?

As I’ve mentioned before, I experienced my own need to categorize when I watched the TV series “Billions“. The character Taylor does not claim to be either male or female. Part of me just couldn’t let that go: “What is s/he really?” It took some time for me to ask the next obvious question: “Why do I need to know?” But once I had asked that question, it started coming to mind in a lot of other situations.



Any closing I can think of seems inappropriate this week. I’ll try to do better next week.

12 Things to Remember Before You Vote

Since Inauguration Day, we’ve been dealing with a faster news cycle than we’ve seen before. Again and again, we see some news story and think: “This changes everything. I’ll never forget about this.” But in a few days there’s something else, the media focus shifts, and last week’s incredible story seems like ancient history. “Are you still going on about that?”

It’s worth remembering how strange this is, and what a shift it marks since the Obama administration. While Fox News and its ilk never lacked for some story they could manufacture outrage over — Obama put his feet on a White House desk, he saluted while holding a latte, Michele wore a sleeveless dress — really outrageous things were rare.

And so they were remembered. President Obama’s claim “If you like your health insurance you can keep it” stuck in everyone’s mind, because he so seldom cut corners on the truth. (For what it’s worth: I liked my health insurance and I kept it.) Benghazi conspiracy theories hung on forever, because so little else happened that Obama-haters could base a good conspiracy theory on. (A few months ago, I saw a guy wearing a “Benghazi: We will never forget” t-shirt. I had to wonder whether the things he will never forget about Benghazi actually happened.)

But as one Trump scandal after another vanishes down the memory hole, it takes some effort to remember things that at the time seemed unforgettable. (As I compiled this list, I kept having an “Oh yeah, that happened” response.) It’s even harder to sort out the really important things from the overhyped distractions: NFL players kneeling, Stormy Daniels, the immigrant caravan, and so on.

But when it comes time to play our role as voters, we need to remember, and we need to make sure that other people remember.

So here’s my list of the most outrageous, most objectionable things that have happened since Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress. In compiling it, I have tried to avoid listing actions (like pulling out of the Paris Agreement or cutting rich people’s taxes) that I simply disagreed with because I am more liberal that President Trump. I’ve also left out times where he did something he had promised to do in the campaign, even if I consider it reprehensible.

Instead, I’m looking for violations of what previous administrations (of both parties) would have regarded as universal American values. They happen fairly regularly, but each seems to push the previous ones out of our memories.

1. Kids in Cages.

From some time in April until late June, the administration carried out a “zero tolerance” policy at the border with Mexico. According to Wikipedia:

The policy involved prosecuting all adults who were detained at the U.S.–Mexico border, sending the parents to federal jails, and placing children and infants under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to government officials, the policy led to the separation of almost 3,000 children from their parents.

Many of these families had done nothing wrong: Seeking asylum is legally protected under both international law and US law. (Trump refers to these laws as “loopholes”.) Many who came to legal entry points trying to turn themselves in and claim asylum were turned away, forcing them to turn themselves in to border agents after crossing illegally. Texas Monthly discussed the problem with Anne Chandler of the Children’s Border Project:

TM: So if you cross any other way besides the bridge, we’re prosecuting you. But . . . you can’t cross the bridge.

AC: That’s right. I’ve talked to tons of people. There are organizations like Al Otro Lado that document border turn-backs. And there’s an effort to accompany asylum seekers so that Customs and Border Patrol can’t say, “We’re closed.” Everybody we’ve talked to who’s been prosecuted or separated has crossed the river without a visa.

By June, public outrage had forced the administration to stop routinely separating families. But HHS and the Justice Department never acknowledged that they had done anything wrong or had created a problem they needed to fix. Whatever corrective action HHS has taken has always been carried out under court order and with a lot of foot-dragging.

On July 26, responding to an ACLU class action lawsuit, a federal judge ordered all separated children, except where not appropriate, be reunited with their parent within 30 days.[19][20] On July 26, the Trump administration said that 1,442 children had been reunited with their parents while 711 remained in government shelters. Officials said they will work with the court to return the remaining children, including 431 parents of those children who have already been deported without their children.[21] As of August 20, 528 of the children — about a fifth — have still not been reunited with their parents.

A number of the children the government regards as “discharged” have been released to a sponsor in the US, rather than reunited with the families they were stolen from.

As Adam Serwer observed in The Atlantic, the cruelty of this policy is the point. Jeff Sessions may call it “deterrence” that will prevent other people from trying to come here, but that’s just a fancy language for describing cruelty: Don’t come here, because if you do we’ll take your children away.

Recently, Trump has discussed implementing a new family-separation policy:

One option weighed by the administration, as reported by the Post: Migrant families seeking asylum can be detained for up to 20 days, at which point they must decide whether to stay together in detention waiting for their cases to proceed or choose separation. This would involve children being transferred to a government shelter so other family members could claim custody.

Federal officials believe this can be done legally.

The ACLU disagrees:

“The government need not, and legally may not, indiscriminately detain families who present no flight risk or danger,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said in an email to the Post. “It is deeply troubling that this Administration continues to look for ways to cause harm to small children.”

2. Putting Russia first in Helsinki.

In July, the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki was a huge propaganda triumph for the Russian president. Trump appeared to balance the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence agencies (that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to help Trump) against Putin’s word, and came down in favor of Putin.

My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. … I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

It wasn’t just that Trump has a blind spot about his own election. In what CNN’s John King called “the surrender summit“, Trump also failed to confront Putin about his interference in European elections (including Brexit) or with any of Russia’s other bad behavior: the annexation of Crimea, fomenting a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, assassinating critics in the UK, or propping up the brutal Assad regime in Syria, just to name a few.

Instead of calling out Putin for his violations of international laws and standards, Trump said US/Russia relations are in a bad place because “we’ve all been foolish”. Trump described a Putin proposal that would have let Russian intelligence interrogate US officials (like former ambassador Mike McFaul) as “an incredible offer”. (The Senate rejected it 98-0.) In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Trump worried about the “aggressive people” of tiny Montenegro, a NATO ally, provoking Russia into war.

Writing in The Washington Post, Julia Ioffe put her finger on the root problem: Trump has let Putin shape his picture of reality.

It’s possible to argue about why the American president has become a mouthpiece for Russian propaganda: Does Putin have kompromat on him? Is it because his real estate empire depends on Russian money? Is he still angling to build Trump Tower Moscow?

But the reason barely matters compared to the result: When the President of the United States speaks about issues Russia cares about, more often than not what comes out of his mouth is Russian propaganda. “America First” has turned into “Russia First”.

3. The Very Fine Nazis in Charlottesville.

Trump has told reporters he is “the least racist person you have ever interviewed“. But his denials have never convinced one very important group of people: white supremacists, who are quite sure that the president is on their side. That’s why he was endorsed by former KKK grand wizard David Duke, and why Richard Spencer led a Nazi-saluting crowd in a chant of “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” after the 2016 election. It’s wrong to claim that all Trump supporters are white racists, but just about all white racists are Trump supporters.

Emboldened by Trump’s 2016 victory, a coalition of Nazis, white supremacists, Neo-Confederates, and other alt-right groups formerly considered to be on the fringes of conservative politics decided to make a big public splash in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, 2017.

In classic storm-trooper style, they held a torchlight parade Friday evening, where they chanted slogans like “Jews will not replace us“, “blood and soil“, and “Hail Trump!“. Men with AR-15s ominously hung around outside a synagogue.

The violence of Friday night culminated Saturday afternoon, when a rally participant rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer (the only fatality of the weekend) and injuring 19 others.

Trump responded to this spectacle by pushing the organizers’ cover story: that the rally was really about a Robert E. Lee statue that Charlottesville wants to move to a less prominent spot. (The parallel with #2, where he uncritically repeated Putin’s propaganda, is worth noting.) After looking at the pre-rally posters and the line-up of speakers, Robert Tracinski at The Federalist begs to differ:

this was a Nazi march from the beginning, planned by Nazis, for Nazis. As to whether any hapless moderates strolled in there thinking this was just about the statue—well, I live in this area and used to be active in the local Tea Party group. I know people who are not white nationalists who oppose the removal of the statues based on high-minded ideas about preserving history. None of them were there, and if they had been, they would have bolted the moment they saw a bunch of guys with torches chanting “Blood and soil.”

“Very fine people”, Trump assured the country, were on “both sides”. And “both sides” were responsible for the violence, even though only one side had somebody wind up dead.

4. Alternative facts.

The Trump administration started with a bang. In his first meeting with the White House press corps, Press Secretary Sean Spicer berated reporters for stating correctly what anyone with eyes could see: Trump’s inauguration didn’t draw nearly as many people as Obama’s. But Spicer angrily insisted: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”

The next Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Kellyanne Conway about this incident, which at the time seemed bizarre, though we’ve since gotten used to such performances.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts,” she said. Todd responded: “Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods.”

At the time we didn’t know that Conway’s “alternative facts” was the opening salvo in an all-out assault on truth that has become increasingly shameless with time.

“All presidents lie,” Trump apologists say, and point to Obama’s “If you like your health plan you can keep it”, Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” or Bush the First’s “Read my lips: no new taxes.” What makes those statements stand out years later, though, is how rare such lies have been for previous presidents of either party.

All presidents have presented facts selectively, emphasizing the ones that fit their narrative while skipping over the ones that didn’t. All presidents have shaded the truth and obfuscated inconvenient facts, particularly when they have been directly accused of something. But we have never seen anything like the thousands of lies Trump has let fly on every conceivable subject.

Just this week, for example, he made up riots in California that never happened, talked about a tax cut that hasn’t even been proposed in Congress, and made a baseless claim about “unknown Middle Easterners” in the current migrant caravan. Even while admitting he had no evidence of the Middle Easterners (who he presumably meant to imply were terrorists), he repeated that “they very well could be” in the caravan — as if he were justified in claiming anything not already proven false.

When things he says are proven to be false, he keeps saying them. This also is completely new in American politics. Previous presidents could be shamed into changing their misleading rhetoric. (Clinton, for example, stopped saying that he never had sex with that woman.) But Trump is shamelessly dishonest.

Some observers tend to write this off as a quirk, like your crazy uncle who tells tall tales about the good old days. But constant lying has a corrosive effect on democracy. It’s impossible to have any kind of reasonable discussion of the issues that face our country when the President can claim anything or deny anything, and (as long as Congress is OK with it) no one can hold him accountable.

5. Puerto Rico.

The Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina was such a turning point that conservative media spent the entirety of  Obama’s two terms looking for “Obama’s Katrina”. At least two dozen unfortunate events got labeled that way, though none of the labels stuck. In the end, Obama’s Katrina was the GOP’s white whale; they chased it for eight years, but it got away.

In just its eighth month, though, the Trump administration had an honest-to-God direct Katrina parallel: Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. In just about every way, the Trump administration and the Republican Congress sent the message that — while Puerto Ricans may technically be American citizens under the law — they don’t really count.

Stories of the botched response are mostly anecdotal, because the administration is sticking to its line that it did “a fantastic job”, and Congress has never investigated.

In the year since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, killing nearly 70 percent more people than Katrina, the GOP-led House has yet to create a select committee to oversee the Trump administration’s recovery efforts. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA, has held just two hearings related to the storm. Neither the House nor the Senate have issued any major reports, and none appear to be in the works.

Here are some of the things we do know: Rather than the two weeks required to restore electric power after Hurricane Irma (which blew through Florida only two weeks later), restoring power to Puerto Rico took eight months. Granted, the shakiness of Puerto Rico’s power grid before the hurricane made the job harder, but ordinarily in America a harder problem inspires a greater effort. Not so this time.

Much of the aid that did make it to the island got stuck in the port of San Juan. 20,000 pallets of bottled water got left on an airport runway, where they were discovered nearly a year later. While Puerto Ricans were dying in hospitals without electric power, or from the inability to get their prescriptions filled, a Navy hospital ship was treating only six patients a day.

Ten months after the storm, the official death toll stood at 64, a number everyone knew was absurd. (Only a month after landfall, CNN had talked to about half of the island’s funeral homes and found 499 storm-related deaths.) The current estimate is just below 3,000 deaths, with some estimates as high as 4,600.

The scene that sums up the Trump administration’s go-through-the-motions response was the President’s own visit to the island, where he casually flipped rolls of paper towels into a crowd the way interns throw compressed t-shirts into the stands at minor-league baseball games.

The challenge posed by Puerto Rico combined Trump’s character flaws and unfitness for office into a perfect storm of dysfunction.

  • He has below-normal levels of compassion in any case. This has been obvious in other disasters as well. Last month, during a photo op where he was handing out food to victims of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, he told a box-lunch recipient to “have a good time“, a line he had also used at an emergency shelter in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
  • He particularly doesn’t care about brown people who speak Spanish. “America First” has always meant “White English-speaking Americans First”. Puerto Ricans are not “Real Americans” to Trump or to Trumpists, so the fact that they were suffering — and many of them were dying — rang no alarm bells.
  • He neither understands nor takes responsibility for how government works. Part of the challenge of Hurricane Maria was the dysfunctionality of the island government. (Similar problems arose after Katrina because of inefficiencies at the Louisiana and New Orleans levels.) But a president who understood government — picture, just for the sake of argument, President Hillary Clinton — would have grasped this from the outset and planned around it. Likewise, the bureaucratic gaps between FEMA, the Pentagon, and other relevant agencies should have been taken into account, but weren’t.
  • He can’t correct his mistakes because he can’t admit them. When it became clear that the death toll was much higher than the early estimates, and that his administration hadn’t been doing “a fantastic job” at all, Trump treated that objective information as a partisan attack against himself. Rather than try to fix anything, he lashed out at the Mayor of San Juan, at Democrats, at the media, and at the Puerto Ricans themselves, who “want everything done for them“.

6. Don’t believe women.

The Kavanaugh controversy is recent enough to still be on the public radar, but it’s far from the only time when the administration has shrugged off the testimony of multiple women. Remember creepy Roy Moore? I’ll let Wikipedia sum up:

In November 2017, nine women accused Roy Moore — a United States Senate candidate and a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama — of sexual misconduct. Three of the women alleged that he had sexually assaulted them, two during their adolescence (one who was 16 at the time of the alleged incident, when Moore was 31, and one who was 14 at the time of the alleged incident, when Moore was 32).[1] Six other women recalled Moore pursuing romantic relationships, or engaging in inappropriate or unwanted behavior with them, while they were between the ages of 16 and 22.

Trump was unfazed in his endorsement of Moore. “He totally denies it,” the President said. And that, apparently, was all it took to convince him. After all, the accusers were just women.

Two White House staffers, Rob Porter and David Sorensen resigned after allegations of physical violence against their wives. Rob Porter was accused by both of his ex-wives, including one who offered a black-eye photo as evidence. Even though he was aware of what the FBI had found during its background investigation, Chief of Staff John Kelly praised and defended Porter:

Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders called Porter “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character”. The White House learned of the accusations in November, 2017, but did nothing about them until they became public in February, 2018.

After Porter’s resignation, Trump’s sympathy was entirely with him rather than his victims: “We certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a very tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House.”

And of course I have to mention what happened before the election: After a video of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults became public, he claimed it was merely “locker room talk” between guys, and not anything he had actually done. Subsequently, more than a dozen women came forward to say that he had sexually assaulted them, while several others alleged lesser forms of misconduct.

Trump responded to more than one of the accusations by claiming that the women were not attractive enough to assault. He said that they were all lying and promised to sue them after the election, which he never did.

7. Repeal, but don’t replace.

As a candidate, Trump railed against ObamaCare almost as much as against immigration. He wasn’t just going to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, he was going to replace it with something much, much better.

Donald Trump: I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.

Scott Pelley: The uninsured person is going to be taken care of how?

Donald Trump: They’re going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably–

Scott Pelley: Make a deal? Who pays for it?

Donald Trump: –the government’s gonna pay for it.

But by the time John McCain cast his famous thumbs-down vote against it, the Republican “repeal and replace” slogan had turned into just “repeal”. Every repeal-ObamaCare plan the CBO analyzed (some plans Republicans pushed to a vote before the CBO could analyze them) would have resulted in the number of uninsured Americans going up by 10-20 million.

In the tax bill, they managed to repeal the insurance mandate; we’ll see if that change starts a death spiral (more and more heathier-than-average people opting out of the system as premiums increase) when it takes effect next year. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has filed a brief supporting a lawsuit that would declare unconstitutional ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

And there is still no TrumpCare plan, not even on paper. “Everybody’s going to be taken care of” was just a lot of blather.

8. Insulting a military widow (and lying about her congresswoman).

Already during the campaign, we saw that Trump has only conditional respect for gold-star families. If they play their assigned roles in his personal narrative, he loves them. But if they criticize him — particularly if they are not white or not Christian — he’ll come at them with both barrels.

On October 4, 2017, four American soldiers died in Niger, a land-locked Africa country that I (like most Americans, I suspect) didn’t know we had troops in, and probably couldn’t have found on a map. The White House staff drafted a public statement about the incident, but (for some unknown reason), it was never released. For weeks, Trump said nothing to the American public about these soldiers or their mission.

Eventually, a reporter shouted a question to Trump, who responded by telling a very odd lie: He made condolence calls to the families of soldiers who died in the line of duty, he claimed, but Obama and some other previous presidents hadn’t. The ensuing controversy got reporters asking questions about presidential condolence calls, and somebody eventually talked to Rep. Fredica Wilson of Florida, who is a friend of the family of one of the four dead soldiers, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson. Wilson said she had been in a car with the widow, Myeshia Johnson, and overheard Trump’s call when Myeshia put it on speakerphone.

Trump, Wilson claimed, told the widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for”, a statement she and the family found insensitive. Trump labeled this account a “total lie“, and stuck by that claim even after Wilson’s story was supported by Sgt. Johnson’s mother. When the widow gave her own interview, saying that Trump’s call “made me cry cause I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said he couldn’t remember my husband’s name”, Trump couldn’t let that stand either, insisting that he “spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”

Take that, you military widow! How dare you remember something the Commander in Chief doesn’t want remembered.

Not to be outdone, Chief of Staff John Kelly also had to get into the fiasco: He slammed Rep. Wilson by telling a false story about her. Kelly said that he had heard Wilson speak at the dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami. He described her ignoring the two dead agents the building was dedicated to and instead focusing entirely on her own role in getting funding for the building. He claimed he had been “stunned” by this, and summarized her character with “Empty barrels make the most noise.”

Unfortunately for him, the Sun Sentinel had a video of the event, which bore no resemblance to Kelly’s story. He had lied. He has never acknowledged the lie or apologized for it.

9. The swampiest administration ever.

Other than The Wall That Mexico Will Pay For and locking up Hillary Clinton, the campaign promise Trump repeated most often was that he would “Drain the swamp.”

It’s a good thing to promise, because there really is a Swamp, and it really does need to be drained: Members of Congress (from both parties) rely on contributions from special interests to fund their campaigns, and the people who work in the government’s administrative agencies (in both Republican and Democratic administrations) know that they can have lucrative second careers working for the interests they’re supposed to be regulating — but only if they play ball with the special interests rather than enforce regulations that are supposed to protect the public.

The result is a government that only works for the American people part-time. The rest of the time it works for big corporations, rich individuals, and whatever single-issue groups can afford to hire good lobbyists. (If you want a more detailed discussion of the problem, read Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig.)

But just as the Wall is not getting built, Mexico will never pay for it, and Hillary Clinton is still free, the Swamp is not being drained. Quite the opposite, in fact: This is the swampiest administration in my lifetime, and maybe ever.

It starts at the top: A big part of draining the swamp is enforcing transparency about the money special interests spend to gain influence and where it goes. But Trump has never liked transparency, at least not when it applies to himself.

Since Nixon, all presidents and nearly all presidential candidates have revealed their tax returns, usually going back many years. (Whenever someone on social media raises the question of how the Clintons have made so much money over the years, I point out that we know exactly how, because we have all their tax returns since Bill first ran for president in 1992.) After repeatedly promising that he would release his returns at some point in the future, Trump has settled on the position that his election win (with 46% of the vote) showed that the American people don’t care about his taxes.

As a result, we can’t say for sure whether the tax plan that he signed in December was primarily for the country’s benefit, or for his own. (We can make some guesses though: The plan looks designed specifically to cut the taxes of people like him. How big a tax cut you’ll get largely depends on how much you resemble Donald Trump.)

He also broke a longstanding tradition of American presidents insulating themselves against financial conflicts of interest by either putting their assets into a blind trust or moving all their investments to Treasury bonds. Trump turned management of The Trump Organization over to his sons, though of course he knows what they’re doing and where his investment interests lie.

He also has directly profited from his presidency. His election led to Mar-a-Lago doubling its membership fee to $200,000. Since Trump spends so much of his time there, it is a unique opportunity to pay money directly into the President’s pocket in exchange for access, leading Chris Hayes to dub Mar-a-Lago “the de facto bribery palace“. Three Mar-a-Lago members have been named ambassadors, while three others are “the shadow rulers of the Veterans Administration“. They got influence in the US government by paying Trump money. Every golfing trip also generates money for the President, as the entire presidential entourage has to be accommodated at the taxpayers’ expense.

Foreign governments pay Trump money as well. The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China pays him $2 million a year to rent the 20th floor of Trump Tower. Qatar bought a $6.5 million apartment at Trump World Tower. Saudi Arabia paid Trump’s D.C. hotel $270,000 to house veterans groups who lobbied for a Saudi interest. It would be trivial for a foreign government to pour huge amounts of money into Trump’s pocket: Just set up shell corporations to buy Trump Organization condos at inflated prices. Is that happening? How would we know?

With that example, it’s little wonder that so many cabinet heads misused public funds. Disgraced EPA head Scott Pruitt is the most famous offender (and Trump accepted his misbehavior until the publicity got to be too much; without a free press, Pruitt would still be in office). But he’s far from the only one: Wilbur Ross, Ryan Zinke, Steve Mnuchin, and Ben Carson all have scandals that would have gotten them ejected from the Obama administration. But Trump’s standards are lower.

10. Politicizing justice.

The campaign chant of “Lock her up!” (which Trump has continued to encourage in his rallies as president) was unique in American political history. I know of no previous example where an American presidential candidate threatened to put his opponent in jail, though this often happens in third-world dictatorships.

Since taking office, he has frequently put forward the idea that the Justice Department should protect him and his allies from investigations while harassing his opponents. Just last month he tweeted:

Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff

I assume he’s talking about Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, who appear to have broken some serious laws. Hunter used campaign money to upgrade his lifestyle, and filed false reports with the FEC to cover his tracks. Collins used his insider knowledge to tip off his family members to sell stock in a drug company before its bad test results became public. Pretty swampy behavior in each case. But apparently Trump believes Attorney General Sessions should have suppressed those investigations, at least until after the fall elections.

Together with allies in Congress (like Devin Nunes), Trump has run a disinformation campaign against the FBI in an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation into his campaign’s collusion with Russia. Just about everyone involved in starting that investigation has been drummed out of the FBI, all without any evidence that the investigation is tainted. The Economist observes:

Mr Trump’s attacks on the [Department of Justice] do not help. He seems to think of the agency as part of his operation, as though he has been elected chief executive of America and the DoJ is the company’s legal department. It follows that, in failing to protect him from Mr Mueller, the department is not doing its job. He has never forgiven Mr Sessions for recusing himself from Mr Mueller’s investigation, and believes he has “the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”.

This contravenes long-standing norms, under which a president appoints an attorney-general and other top officials, then sets general policy direction, but otherwise respects the department’s independence—and certainly does not intervene in investigations. Susan Hennessey, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and former lawyer for the National Security Agency, believes the president “has no reference to the DoJ as an institution that has to be defended—it’s entirely personal for him”. The DoJ’s independence, and the rule of law that independence protects, are not features of the American system to Mr Trump; they are pesky inconveniences.

11. Shithole countries.

During a closed-door discussion of immigration last January, Trump revolted at the idea of taking more people from countries like Haiti and various African nations: “Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?” he asked, and wondered why we couldn’t get more immigrants from Norway.

Just about all American families (other than native Americans) originate from places that (at the time) could have been described in similar terms, and probably were: Ireland during the famine, for example, or the Jewish Pale in Russia during the pogroms. In general, people who are doing well stay where they are. (We don’t get more Norwegians now because — largely thanks to socialismNorway is nice place to live, in many ways nicer than the US.)

But Trump’s outlandish statement is all of a piece with the worldview that makes him so popular with the white supremacists we talked about in #3: America is for white Christian people. At every possible turn, he has tried to keep other kinds of people from coming here, and to throw out those who were already here, even if they came legally.

That simple rule of thumb explains a wide variety of Trump administration policies and rhetoric: the Muslim ban, the Wall, the mythical immigrant crime wave, and a host of others. White Christian people are good, and we want them. Any other kind of people are bad, and we want them gone.

12. Enemies of the American people.

Every administration feuds with the press, and none gets the coverage it thinks it deserves. (Nixon VP Spiro Agnew famously called the press “nattering nabobs of negativism“.) Hindsight resolves most of these disputes in the press’ favor. For example, both Presidents Johnson and Bush II criticized the media for not telling the public the “good news” about the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, respectively. But in fact those wars just weren’t going well, as the media accurately reported.

But no previous president has ratcheted up his anti-media rhetoric to Trump’s level of vitriol, not just against specific stories or reporters, but against the very idea of a free press itself. Just this morning, only days after a Trump supporter mailed a bomb to CNN, he denounced “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People“. In his rallies, he points to the area reserved for reporters and says things like “these people back there, these horrible, horrendous people“. Independent observers are worried about what this abuse portends for American democracy.

“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” said David Kaye and Edison Lanza, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, respectively.

The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.

“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said. “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.” …

“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavored outlets,” the experts added, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.

Before the election, the term fake news actually meant something important: It referred to entirely made-up stories packaged to look like news reports and distributed over social media, like “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” which got noticed by more than half a million Facebook users a few days before the election.

We know this is fake because The Denver Guardian, which supposedly published it, does not exist. Fake news like this was rampant before the election. Most of it favored Trump, and some of it came from Russia.

Since the election, Trump has perverted fake news to mean any report he doesn’t like, particularly those where White House staffers leak something anonymously. Quite often, an article he labels “fake news” turns out to be true.

His statements after the capture of the MAGA bomber have ominous historical echoes: He blames the press for raising public anger against itself, and takes no responsibility for his own rhetoric.

There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!

In other words: Unless the press stops criticizing him and pointing out his lies, he will continue to unleash his brownshirts on them. Only when no one criticizes the Great Leader will he be able to “bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony”.