Treacherous Division

Maintaining the division between the Colony and the Nation is treacherous precisely because of the constant threat that the tools honed in the Colony will be wielded in the Nation; that tyranny and violence tolerated at the periphery will ultimately infiltrate the core.

– Chris Hayes, A Colony in a Nation

This week’s featured post is a suggestion for framing discussions about the more subtle forms of racism: “Racism, Hot and Cold“. And it’s an appropriate time to look back at my attempt in 2013 to promote a secular Easter mythology in “Wrestling with Easter“.

This week everybody was talking about rumors of war

The Syria attack got Trump such good press that many were skeptical Thursday when we dropped the Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB, a.k.a. Mother of All Bombs) in Afghanistan. But Vox thinks it was legit.

“It’s a weapon that has a narrow target set,” an Air Force official told me. “It’s primarily intended for soft to medium surface targets — targets like a cave and canyon environment.”

The area hit in Afghanistan appears to be one of the few targets that fit this profile.

All the same, it was weird to watch the chest-thumping on the Right over a big-but-mostly-meaningless explosion. Our national pride used to be based on stuff like inventing the light bulb or landing on the Moon. Now it comes from dropping really big bombs.

The more worrisome situation is North Korea, which has been ramping up both its nuclear tests and its missile tests. The Guardian reports:

There has been little doubt in recent years that the end-point of the North Korean programme is an arsenal of working ICBMs and nuclear warheads small enough to put on top of them. The dilemma of how to stop it reaching that goal is the hardest problem facing any US administration, a point that Barack Obama repeatedly made to Trump during the presidential transition.

… Trump seems to be hoping that by introducing some unpredictability into this static scenario, he can frighten the Chinese government into putting real pressure on Pyongyang. There are some signs that might be working, with hints in China’s semi-official media that Beijing could tighten oil deliveries, North Korea’s lifeline.

Trump’s reliance on China may explain why he’s reversed himself on his currency manipulation charge. Branding China a “currency manipulator” — something he was going to do “on Day 1” of his administration — would have begun a formal process that would likely have led to tariffs and a trade war. Now he’s changed his mind.

Like Syria, North Korea is a situation where no one has any really good ideas. North Korea probably already has the ability to destroy Seoul, a South Korean mega-city of about 25 million. So a preemptive war could have an enormous cost. But waiting for the North Korean regime to gain the power to similarly threaten Tokyo or Los Angeles is not a great prospect either.

Some Trump fans thought the MOAB blast was a warning to North Korea, but actually it wouldn’t be much of a threat there. Vox again:

“If you think about what a target profile might look like in either Iran or North Korea — both of those countries have air defense systems,” [University of Kentucky Professor Rob] Farley says. “This is a weapon dropped from a C-130, which is not a stealthy aircraft and not really a combat aircraft at all. This is not a weapon you can drop on someone who has an active defense of the target — fighters or any kind of surface-to-air missile.”

Fortunately, yesterday’s North Korean missile test seems to have failed.

In any international conflict, we hear the argument that “You can’t talk to [insert name of foreign leader], he’s crazy.” On occasion it might be true, but it really can’t be true every single time. Maybe it’s true about Kim Jong-Un; a lot of people certainly think so. But this article in Newsweek from last year claims not.

and the United Air Lines fiasco

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the story and probably even seen the videos: Dr. David Dao, who was already seated, refused United’s compensation offer for leaving the plane and was dragged off my force.

Criticizing United for this incident is shooting fish in a barrel; everybody has done it already. Twitter has a #NewUnitedAirlinesMotto hashtag, with gems like: “If we can’t beat our competitors, we’ll beat our customers” and “United: Putting the hospital in hospitality”. Jimmy Kimmel created a new United commercial:

But United’s situation is even worse than it initially appeared: Early coverage assumed that the fine print of its ticket agreement gave United the legal right to do what it did, even if it obviously shouldn’t have. But now it looks like United is wrong even legally. Apparently, the contract allows United to “refuse boarding” to a passenger for just about any reason, including that they have some other use for the seat. But nothing gave them the right to remove Dao after they had boarded him, unless he was being disruptive — and he didn’t become a problem passenger until after they started trying to remove him.

Beyond that, the interesting articles are about the larger meaning of this event. Is the problem these particular United employees? United itself? Airlines in general? Capitalism? I think the quote at the top of this page, which comes from Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation (discussed last week) nails it.

Maintaining the division between the Colony and the Nation is treacherous precisely because of the constant threat that the tools honed in the Colony will be wielded in the Nation; that tyranny and violence tolerated at the periphery will ultimately infiltrate the core.

In other words: We tolerate that in poor, black neighborhoods, people who don’t do what some authority tells them are beaten and/or dragged away by police, even if the authority is overstepping. Whenever someone gets killed in such a circumstance, you will inevitably hear the argument: “Why didn’t he just do what the officer told him?”

Once that idea gets out there — that (even if you’re in the right) you do what you’re told or face violence — it’s not going to stay in its box. Socially, an airliner may seem far, far away from Ferguson or Baltimore. But when you’re sitting in your middle seat, you’re powerless too. So you’d better do what you’re told or face violence.

Once we accept this kind of violence, there’s no way to define a boundary that will keep it away from you. The only solution is to resolve that people will not be treated that way. All people, everywhere.

and the continuing retreat of liberal democracy

Turkish voters passed a referendum taking power away from its parliament and centering it in the executive. The Erdogan government has been getting increasingly autocratic for some time, and this is a big step further down that road. (The idea that a narrow majority can authorize this kind of sweeping change is scary in itself, and typical of the rise of dictators.)

A coup against Erdogan failed last year, and he has used that opportunity to rule in an “emergency” mode. International observers judged that a valid referendum could not take place under these circumstances.

For a long time, Turkey seemed headed towards membership in the European Union, which would have exacerbated Brexit-like pressures on countries that didn’t want a large influx of poor Turks looking for jobs, but also was liberalizing Turkey internally. Now that process seems to be over.

Now all eyes turn to France, where the first round of a presidential election will be held on Sunday. It’s uncertain which two of the current 11 candidates will be in the run-off on May 7, but one of them is likely to be Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right National Front.

but this article is also worth your time

Rick Perlstein has been writing books about the history of the American Right for many years, beginning in 2001 with Before the Storm about the Goldwater movement, and continuing with Nixonland and the most recent in the series The Invisible Bridge, which takes the story up to Ronald Reagan’s nearly successful challenge to President Ford’s renomination in 1976.

Now he recognizes that the story he and other historians of the Right have been telling doesn’t lead to Trump, and that has him re-evaluating his whole approach.

If Donald Trump is the latest chapter of conservatism’s story, might historians have been telling that story wrong?

His article “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.” is a fascinating history of historians trying to make sense out of events whose consequences are still playing out. When the main thing they knew about Goldwater was his landslide loss to LBJ in 1964, he looked like an aberrant throwback, which is how Richard Hofstadter portrayed him in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

Then his campaign became the forerunner of Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, and historians began telling a different story of conservatism’s march to respectability. Now the story of “modern conservatism” begins in 1955, with William F. Buckley’s National Review rejecting the conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society, the nativism and racism of the KKK, and the anti-modernism of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

But Trump, Perlstein now recognizes, has a lot more to do with the old, crazy conservatism than with Buckley-style respectable conservatism. That means that the march to respectability was always partly an illusion, the old conservatism must always have been there under the surface, and the roots of Trump go back further than Perlstein had thought.

and you might also be interested in

Apparently the attempt to raise an uproar about Susan Rice was just another Trump attempt to distract from his own Russia scandal.

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN.

Josh Marshall reflects that few presidents arrive in office really prepared for the job, and each of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama had to learn a lot in their early days. But Trump is unique in that he truly seems not to have previously understood that knowledge was possible. When he discovers something that literally everyone who pays attention to the news already knew (like that health care is complicated, or that China and Korea have a long and difficult history), he presents it as if we should all be as surprised as he is.

Having failed to repeal ObamaCare, Trump is threatening to break it. If he thinks this threat is going to get Democrats to go along with his repeal plan, he’s going to have to think again.

Thursday Trump signed a bill that allows states to deny federal grants to Planned Parenthood.

Now that the rule has been repealed, states can effectively block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from funds associated with the Title X Family Planning program, which was established in 1970 to subsidize organizations that offer services related to contraception, pregnancy care, fertility and cancer screenings primarily for low-income people.

This is widely misunderstood as “defunding Planned Parenthood”, as if there were a “subsidize Planned Parenthood” line somewhere in the federal budget. What the federal government in fact subsidizes are services, which people can get by going to the service-provider of their choice.

So basically, what Trump and Republicans at the state level are doing here is anti-freedom. They’re saying that you can’t get your federally subsidized cancer screening or contraception where you want to get it. You have to get it from some provider conservatives approve of.

Free college was one of Bernie Sanders’ most popular proposals. New York state is now moving in that direction. The SUNY and CUNY systems will be tuition-free to in-state students whose families make less than $100,000, if they fulfill academic requirements and stay in the state after graduation.

Jay Rosen is promoting the expansion of the Dutch news organization De Correspondent to the American market. He says De Correspondent looks as if it were built around the question: “What if news organizations optimized every part of the operation for trust?”

Conservative media outlets loved to run stories about how the Obamas were “living large” at the public expense, as if life in the White House had been spartan until 2009. But Trump’s expenses are blowing away Obama’s numbers. Vanity Fair reports:

In all eight years of President Barack Obama’s presidency, his travel, both personal and professional, amounted to a total of $97 million, according to Judicial Watch. That puts Trump on track to surpass Obama’s travel spending over the course of two terms in about one year.

Judicial Watch, it’s worth pointing out, is a conservative group that was outraged at that $97 million figure.

The sheriff’s department in Lake County, Florida made a video to try to scare drug dealers. It ought to scare pretty much everybody. I think I might rather run into drug dealers than these masked vigilantes.

Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh discovers that her Dad gets his news from alt-right web sites, and he isn’t completely sure that she doesn’t eat babies.

and let’s close with an amusing way to waste time

Fifty pictures that sum up each of the fifty states. Like North Carolina:

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  • gordonc  On April 17, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    “Our national pride used to be based on stuff like inventing the light bulb or landing on the Moon. Now it comes from dropping really big bombs.”

    Or on being a melting pot.

  • Sara McCutcheon  On April 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    A small point: President Ford was not renominated because he was never nominated to begin with.

  • Sara McCutcheon  On April 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    ^^I think I may’ve stated that badly. Ford was never elected to either President or Vice President, and only nominated to either of those in 1976.

  • Abby  On April 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    In reading about the United Airlines fiasco, lots of people talk about how we are at the mercy of the airlines, and how we have no power over a private company. This ignores one crucial factor: Airlines are private companies, but *airports* are owned by taxpayers and run by municipal authorities. Airlines must bid for “slots”, that is, permission to take off or leave from a given airport at a given time. At busy airports, those slots are gold. There is no reason why the municipal authority that runs O’Hare (or for that matter, the municipal authorities that run airports in New York or Massachusetts) couldn’t just decide that when those slots are being negotiated next time, that they won’t be interested in seeing bids from UA, because of their record of passenger abuse. Airlines *can’t* make money without airports, and airports are under public control. If airlines’ abilities to take off and land at certain airports becomes threatened because of bad treatment of passengers, I strongly suspect that they will suddenly treat their passengers much better.

    • weeklysift  On April 17, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      I wish I believed that would work. I suspect that United has more pull with the people who manage O’Hare than its passengers do.

  • Guest  On April 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    With everything else going on it’s no surprise it fell through the cracks Doug, but I would have liked to see your take on the Kansas 4th Congressional District’s special election. In an area that reliably votes R by 30 point margins, a no-name “people-powered” progressive comes within a statistical margin of error in the polls leading up election day. The Republican establishment responds in full force, sending truck loads of cash, robo-calls from Trump and Pence, and stump appearances by Ted Cruz. The Democratic establishment responds with…nothing much. The result is another republican victory. Hard to shake the sense that Democratic Party power brokers would rather risk more and more conservative wins than seriously get behind progressive ideals (even if those ideals have broad support among the general electorate!) or the candidates that fight for them.

    Is it more encouraging that James Thompson was able to put up as valiant a fight as he did, or ominous that the Democratic establishment seem to have learned nothing from their mistakes and sins of 2016?

    • weeklysift  On April 19, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Yeah, the Tax Day protests for Trump to reveal his returns fell through the cracks too, even though I had friends among the protesters. I’m sorry about that.

      In these special elections, I find myself reluctant to get my hopes up, or to try to raise the hopes of my readers. I also have not been convinced by anyone’s account of what the lessons of 2016 are. Everyone claims that 2016 proves them right. I’ve looked for a solid, non-self-serving analysis of what happened, and I haven’t found one.

      The Party has thrown resources into the Georgia special election, and so far has fallen short there too. There’s still a chance in the run-off, but my bet is that Republicans once again unite behind their own.

      • Guest  On April 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

        No need to apologize, Doug, lots going on. Thank you for covering what you can.

        Given the Party’s reluctance to put up a fight, your instinct to not get hopes up seems justified, sadly. Rather than a hope rally point, I was interested in the special election as a sort of first litmus test as to how the Party would compete (or not, in this case) in Post-Trump elections.

        It’s fascinating that you don’t see any lessons for the Democrats to learn from given 2016. And if you, sensible as you are, can’t see any, I have even less hope that the DNC can or will.

        Maybe it’s perspective, but I didn’t find anything particularly self-serving in the analysis of, say, Robert Reich, John Nichols, or Noam Chomsky. Maybe you can more easily slander Glen Greenwald or TYT as self-serving, but as with the others mentioned, the concerns they were raising at the time and the red flags they were waving have been vindicated, unfortunately. If we are intent on not learning anything from 2016, then dismissing these perspectives out of hand as “self-serving” would be a great place to start.

        And I completely agree with your bet on Georgia. To update an old saw, the Republicans fall in line, the Democrats just fall over.

  • marymtf  On April 19, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    You say that “our national pride used to be based on things like landing on the moon,” but didn’t Obama make cuts to NASA’s space exploration programs?
    Didn’t former President Obama say he was “very proud” of the moment in 2013 when, against the “overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom”, he decided not to honour his own “red line”, allowing Assad to escape accountability for a chemical attack that had killed more than 1,400 civilians.
    I think that Trump should stuck to wringing his hands at the atrocities.

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