You know where a war begins, but you never know where it ends.
– Otto von Bismarck
This week’s featured posts are “Where Did That Come From?” (about the Syria attack) and “Justice and the Police” (connecting the latest from Trump’s Justice Department to the analysis in Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation).
This week everybody was talking about the Syria
I covered this at length in one of the featured posts.
One further thought: During the Obama years, Republicans often ridiculed his teleprompter, as if the President himself were simply a mouthpiece for words written by someone else. To me, that criticism always misfired, because Obama in fact had a deep understanding of the issues and thought quite well on his feet.
But watching Trump’s announcement of the cruise missile attack, I couldn’t help thinking that I was hearing a teleprompter speak and not a president. Trump read his statement slowly, always looking to the screen on one side or the other, and never forward into the camera.
and the byzantine rivalries inside the White House
Steve Bannon’s star seems to be in decline. He was removed from the National Security Council, a role a political operative should never have had to begin with. Some attribute his removal to National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, while others credit/blame Jared Kushner.
Breitbart, the alt-right pseudo-news site Bannon ran before becoming Trump’s chief strategist, continues to be Bannon’s propaganda outlet. Of late, it has taken a strong anti-Kushner tack. After the NSC announcement, it gave major space to an interview with Ned Ryun of American Majority (an organization devoted to training new conservative leaders). He described Bannon’s demotion as part of a power struggle between
national populists, really led by Bannon, versus, quite frankly – there’s no other way to describe them – the liberal New York City set that have come in.
i.e., Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump.
God bless them, they’re part of the Trump family, but let’s not kid ourselves: they are part of the Manhattan liberal set. … I think we should start asking questions – who are they really? What has been their experience? What is their worldview? Because I’m starting to suspect their worldview does not line up with the campaign promises that Trump was making. … I’ve got to tell you, my hope is that Trump will say, “I know what got me in. I know what brought me to the White House. Steve Bannon is really the lead cheerleader on that front. Keep Steve close. Listen to Steve.”
I find it fascinating that Bannonists are calling themselves “national populists” and focusing on appealing to the white working-class voters in the Trump base. If they’re ever looking for a Tea-Party-like name, how about National Populist American Workers’ Party? That has a ring to it, don’t you think?
One Kushner ally the National Populists (Nappies?) particularly hate is Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs COO who is head of the National Economic Council and has been rumored as a replacement for Reince Preibus as chief of staff.
Beneath all the Breitbart codewords — liberal, New York, globalist — is a meaning you have to go to the more extreme sources to translate: Jew. Kushner was born Jewish and Ivanka converted, but Cohn is the alt-Right’s worst nightmare: an honest-to-HaShem Jewish banker.
and the Senate approving Gorsuch
Senate Republicans had to change Senate rules on the fly to do it, eliminating the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations.
There are those who mourn this move, or who wish Democrats had saved their filibuster for some future nomination, but I don’t see it. What is to be mourned here are the traditions of fair play and mutual respect that for centuries allowed the Senate to use the filibuster responsibly.
Until the last two decades, the filibuster was an extreme tactic, reserved for situations in which the minority wanted to serve notice that it was aggrieved in more than just an ordinary way. Filibustering was outside the range of ordinary negotiating tactics, similar to when a spouse threatens to leave.
A number of major bills, ones that opponents must have thought were important, were not filibustered: the Social Security amendments that created Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, for example. Entire years might go by without a filibuster.
As the graph shows, use of the filibuster started to ramp up around 1970, gradually increased in the next few decades, and then spiked after Republicans became the minority in 2007. Mitch McConnell’s years as minority leader saw unprecedented obstruction; it became a commonplace that “it takes 60 votes to do anything in the Senate”.
Among McConnell’s new tactics was the blockade of an office, without regard to the qualifications of the individual nominated to fill it. He attempted to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Board from operating, and very nearly brought the National Labor Relations Board to a halt by refusing to let any nominee come to a vote. That’s what led Democrats to eliminate the filibuster on all nominations but the Supreme Court in 2013.
McConnell was majority leader by 2016, when he blockaded the Supreme Court seat that opened when Justice Scalia died. If there had been something objectionable about Merrick Garland — a generally moderate judge of sterling record — Republicans might have rejected Garland for cause and let President Obama nominate someone else, as the Founders intended. But the point of this maneuver was to prevent the seat from being filled, in hopes a Republican president might someday fill it. This was entirely unprecedented in American history.
Democrats couldn’t simply go back to the status quo after that. Returning to the marriage analogy, it would be like one spouse accepting that the other had won an argument by violence, and pretending that everything could go back to normal afterward. The courtly traditions of the Senate are gone now; pretending they can be restored without any acknowledgment of the gravity of the Garland nomination would be pointless.
It would have been similarly pointless to save the filibuster for the next nomination. If the Republican majority is determined to have its way, regardless of previous Senate traditions, then it will. A tool that exists only as long as you never use it is worthless.
While Senate traditions of collegiality are something to mourn for, the filibuster itself is not. Without the traditional restraints on its use, it becomes an instrument of minority obstruction, and enables the kind of gridlock we saw in the last six years of the Obama administration. Right now, liberals may wish they could stop more things from happening, but ultimately minority obstruction undermines the efficacy of democracy. If the people vote for something, they should get it. If they don’t like it, they should vote for something else.
but don’t forget about the Russia investigation
This week’s development was that House Intelligence Chair Devan Nunes recused himself from the investigation. He’ll continue as committee chair, but Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas will fill his role on the Russia probe.
Trump and his people have tried to make a distracting pseudo-scandal out of Susan Rice having names of Trump’s people “unmasked” from intelligence reports. So far, though, nothing we’ve learned seems all that suspicious to people who understand the process. For people who don’t, here’s a primer.
and you might also be interested in
As I explained last week, the effort to revive ObamaCare repeal is going nowhere. Congress is taking its April recess with no further action, in spite of Trump’s statement on March 28 that such a deal would be “easy” and happen “quickly”.
Matt Yglesias points to another area where Trump’s rhetoric outstrips anything actually in the works: infrastructure. He continues to talk about the $1 trillion infrastructure idea he floated during the campaign, but there is no actual plan Congress could vote on, and no one appears to be making one. Yglesias refers to an infrastructure plan as “vaporware”, a software industry term for promised features that aren’t actually being programmed.
I can’t vouch for the underlying data, but this map of each state’s largest employer is interesting: It’s usually either Walmart, a university, or a healthcare provider. Boeing in Washington and Intel in Oregon are the only manufacturers.
and let’s close with some dancing
I really should save this for the week when Bannon gets fired, but it’s never a bad time to watch a parrot rock out.