Getting Away

When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

– Harry Frankfurt “On Bullshit” (1986)

This week’s featured post is “Social Capital and Inequality“, where I review Ryan Avents new book The Wealth of Humans.

This week everybody was talking about James Comey

Like many Americans without a 9-to-5 job (and maybe a few at work), I was glued to the TV Thursday morning during Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Full transcript here.)

I don’t pretend to be unbiased, but I thought Comey was a compelling witness. He answered a lot of questions with a direct yes, no, or I don’t know. He didn’t seem to be trying to build his legend. (“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m Captain Courageous,” he said in response to Senator Rubio’s questions about why he didn’t confront Trump more directly.) While refusing to reveal the content of the FBI’s investigation or any classified information, he never sounded like a bureaucrat finagling a way around some legitimate question. When asked something difficult, he often started with “That’s a good question” before proceeding to give a thoughtful response.

In addition to legal implications of his testimony, I thought Comey very clearly established that the Trump’s relationship with him was not normal. In a few short months, he had more one-on-one conversations with Trump than he had with the president during the entire Bush and Obama administrations. And from the first meeting, he felt a need to document what was said because “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” (He’d had no similar worry about Bush or Obama.)

Republican senators were left to make what seems to me to be a very bad case: Sleazy as it was, Trump’s attempt to influence Comey doesn’t rise to the level of obstruction of justice, and he was doing it to protect a friend (Mike Flynn) rather than to cover his own wrong-doing. Matt Yglesias reacts:

Congress is supposed to oversee the executive branch and police not only legal misconduct but political misconduct, like perverting the legal process to benefit his friends and allies.

Instead, congressional Republicans have chosen to stand on the ground that it’s okay to order an investigation quashed as long as you do it with a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge — even if you follow up by firing the guy you winked at. And they’re standing on the ground that it’s okay to quash an investigation as long as the investigation you quashed targeted a friend and close political associate, rather than the president himself.

That’s a standard of conduct that sets the United States up for massive and catastrophic erosion of the rule of law, not only, or even especially, because the president is behaving corruptly, but because Republican Party members of Congress have chosen to allow it.

I occasionally flashed back to the meeting Bill Clinton had with Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the investigation of Hillary’s email server. Both Clinton and Lynch came out saying that they didn’t discuss the investigation, but what if Lynch had reported that Clinton said the same things Comey reported Trump saying: asking if Lynch wanted to keep her job in the next administration, and saying he “hoped” she could let Hillary off? Would Republicans put a benign interpretation on those words then?

And then there’s what’s been called the “toddler defense“. Here’s how Paul Ryan puts it:

He’s new to government. And so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new to this.

He’s also not “steeped in the protocols” about profiteering and other forms of corruption, or how to deal with allies. I guess it’s totally unreasonable of us to expect the President of the United States to understand his job, or to seek advice about the things he doesn’t know. (If only the Democrats had offered us a real alternative, like maybe a candidate who had been training for this job her whole life.)

Also, as a response to Comey the toddler defense is bogus on its face: The reason Trump insisted on all the witnesses leaving the room before pressuring Comey was that he knew he was doing something wrong.


Congressional Republicans are also letting Trump get away with a non-responsive nothing-to-see-here approach towards the whole Russia affair. A lot of the most suspicious elements of this scandal have been left completely unexplained: Why did the White House wait 18 days to fire Michael Flynn, after they’d been warned he might be compromised by the Russians? Why was Jared Kushner meeting with somebody from a Putin-connected Russian bank? Why did so many of Trump’s people either lie about their meetings with Russians or neglect to mention them when asked? And then finally, why was Comey fired? There was an unbelievable explanation right away, but Trump contradicted it later, and now the question has been left hanging.

Many people talk about the story as if it were he-said/she-said. But it isn’t even that, because Trump hasn’t offered any explanation at all.


Ezra Klein finds a method in the madness of Trump tweets: Trump’s primary mode of argument isn’t lying, it’s bullshitting. (Believe it or not, that’s a technical term, defined in the seminal essay “On Bullshit“.)

Lies are an effort to win an argument. Bullshitting is an effort to dominate coverage of an argument, to crowd out the truth, to distract the media with topics you prefer. Trump is very good at bullshitting. And since he doesn’t have a good counterargument to offer against Comey, he’s falling back on what he knows.


A number of people have noticed how many themes from sexual harassment cases appear: The boss maneuvered a 1-on-1 meeting and made inappropriate suggestions. Later, Comey asked his immediate supervisor not to leave him alone with the boss, but the supervisor just shrugged. When he tried to ignore the unwelcome advances and just do his job, he got fired. And now that he’s complaining, the people who hear his complaint  interpret his “confusion over how to respond to a shocking request … as a signal that nothing happened”.

Robin Abcarian wrote in the LA Times:

Is there a working woman alive who cannot identify with poor James Comey right now? The former FBI director’s boss tried to seduce him. When the seduction failed, his boss fired him. And then called him “crazy, a real nut job.” … Trump thought he had some kind of bromance going with Comey. He wined him. He dined him. And because he is transactional to his core, he expected a little somethin’ somethin’ in return.

and Nicole Serratore in the NYT:

Mr. Comey, you are not alone. How many of us have played over and over in our minds an encounter that suddenly took a creepy, coercive turn? What did I say? Were my signals clear? Did I do something ambiguous? Did I say something compromising?

Cait Bladt invents a scene from the closed hearing that followed Comey’s public testimony.

SENATOR BLUNT: Mr. Comey it is a straightforward question — you wore that suit knowing it would appeal to men like Mr. Trump and then when it did and he hugged you, you acted like it was shocking and appalling, correct?


Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tells a similar story of being creeped out by Trump’s overtures, backing away from him, and then being fired.


A former FBI agent now a dean at Yale Law School focused on a different aspect of Comey’s testimony:

In the nine times Trump met with or called Comey, it was always to discuss how the investigation into Russia’s election interference was affecting him personally, rather than the security of the country. He apparently cared little about understanding either the magnitude of the Russian intelligence threat, or how the FBI might be able to prevent another attack in future elections.


Right-wing media covered a very different hearing from the one I saw.


Trump said Friday that “100%” he’d be willing to testify under oath. But Trump says a lot of things, and I seriously doubt he will ever do this voluntarily. US NewsRobert Schlesinger:

it wasn’t so very long ago that Trump was issuing seemingly iron-clad guarantees that he would release his tax returns


John McCain’s incoherent questioning was the sad sidebar of the Comey hearing. Twitter exploded with speculation that McCain is suffering from dementia.

I’ve had an irrational affection for McCain ever since he ran against Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary. McCain in 2000 had incredible mental stamina. Some days he held four or five two-hour townhall meetings; one day I was at the fourth one, and he fielded everything thrown at him, always trying to answer the question asked rather than seguing into canned talking points.

The senator I saw on TV Thursday was not the same man. And that’s unfortunate, because McCain has seemed like the most likely Republican senator to start the process of backing away from Trump,

and the British election

Prime Minister Theresa May called for a new election with the idea that the timing was favorable and she’d expand her majority, strengthening her bargaining position going into the Brexit negotiations with the European Union. It didn’t work out that way: Her Conservative Party (the Tories) started with 331 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, and wound up with 318 instead.

That’s less than a majority, but it appears that she’ll stay in office after working out a deal with the Unionist Party, which has 10 seats and represents what used to be the Protestant faction in Northern Ireland’s civil war.

The party is likely to have a lengthy wish list of demands in return for its support for a Conservative government, including the outright rejection of any “special status” for Northern Ireland in the EU after Brexit.

In other words, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be a hard border, not the soft border that currently exists because both sides are in the EU. How Catholics will take that remains to be seen, but The Independent is worried about maintaining the Northern Ireland peace agreement.


It’s intriguing to try to map British trends onto the United States, especially given that last summer’s Brexit vote can be read as a harbinger of Trump’s victory. If you make that translation, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbin almost pulled off what Bernie Sanders hoped to do: by turning Labour away from its Tony Blair (i.e. Clintonist) past and swinging further to the left, he drew major support from younger voters, got people to the polls who don’t usually vote, and even got a slice of UKIP (i.e. Trump) voters.

But he still didn’t win. This is where mapping UK elections onto the US gets tricky: Because the UK doesn’t have a two-party system, you don’t need anything like a majority of the votes. (Brexit, with its binary choice between Remain and Leave, was a better approximation of a US election.) The vote totals of both the Tories (42%) and Labour (40%) would have been enough for a landslide in some previous elections. In Tony Blair’s last election in 2005, for example, his Labour Party got 35% of the vote and won 355 seats. But a Sanders-like candidate who got 40% of the U.S. vote would suffer a catastrophic defeat. So the parallels have limited value.

and Wonder Woman

I haven’t seen the Wonder Woman movie yet — given the past DC movies I expected it to be terrible; apparently it isn’t — but the discussions surrounding it are fascinating.

First, there are the howls of reverse sexism directed at theaters that have scheduled a few women-only showings of the film. (Whatever other issues might arise, it was a good business decision. The screenings sold out quickly.)

As regular readers probably know, I’m skeptical about the whole concept of reverse discrimination (i.e., discrimination against some dominant group). Too often, what feels like reverse persecution is just the strange feeling of being treated like everyone else, a phenomenon I first discussed in 2012’s “The Distress of the Privileged“.

The main thing that’s problematic about all-male or all-white clubs or schools is that they can become tools for a dominant group to maintain its dominance. (If business deals are made over golf, excluding women from a golfing club excludes them from those deals.) So I guess I’d be suspicious of women-only events in those rare settings already dominated by women — say, at a convention for nurses or elementary-ed teachers — where men might already feel like outsiders. But I’m not seeing how a women-only Wonder Woman screening helps women consolidate some unfair advantage.

Back in 2014, Sian Ferguson of Everyday Feminism explained the purpose of safe spaces. The slam on safe spaces is that they are echo chambers for people who want to avoid ever hearing critical ideas. But when your group has an actual oppression problem, you can never go very long without facing criticism. The point of a safe space isn’t to avoid criticism forever, it’s to get away from it for a few hours.

As a rape victim, I am constantly exposed to the notion that I deserve to be blamed for my trauma. The assumption my safe space makes – that I should not be blamed for my rape – is already challenged constantly by most of society.

I doubt that women who attend superhero movies are unexposed to male points of view on superheroes, including Wonder Woman.

Stephen Miller gives an account of sneaking into a women-only screening and nobody caring. He liked the movie. Ben Pobjie is joking (I think) when he warns that “male corpses will litter the streets”. And I’m pretty sure that “Confirmed: 31 Women Contract Lesbianism after Female-Only Viewing of Wonder Woman 3D” is satire.


Second, the question of whether movies are changing: Can a woman director make a summer blockbuster about a female character? I liked Michelle Wolf’s comment on The Daily Show.

You know when it will feel like women are equal at the box office? When we get to make a bad superhero movie and then immediately make another bad one. Men get chance after chance to make superhero movies. No one left crappy Batman vs. Superman saying: “Well, I guess we’re done making man movies.”


And finally, a controversy I never would have anticipated: Gal Gadot (pronounced Guh-DOTT), who plays Wonder Woman, is a Jewish Israeli. Should she count as white? This turned out to be a major topic of discussion in some Jewish circles. Dani Ishai Behan argued that the historic oppression of Jews and the continued existence of antisemitism makes Jews people of color; subsuming them into “white” erases them. Noah Berlatsky doesn’t dispute the present reality of antisemitism, the history of oppression, or the significance of Jewish identity, but countered that in the context (of people of color complaining about the few roles available to them and the few positive characters they resemble) the point is disingenuous.

Gadot is, after all, playing a white character; she was clearly cast because people see her as white. The argument that she was a person of color was transparently made in bad faith; it was meant to distract from actual POC folks asking for better representation.

and you might also be interested in …

For years, Kansas has been the proving ground for conservative economics: Tax cuts will create jobs, lower rates will increase revenue rather than diminish it, and so on. The results have been bad. Since Governor Brownback’s tax cuts in 2012, growth has been sluggish, and the end result has been not just intractable deficits, but also pressure to make up the difference by spending less on education and highways — a trade-off voters would never have approved if it had been submitted to them all at once. (“How about this? You give up good roads and schools, and the state’s credit rating goes down, but the rich get to pay less tax.”)

Well, that nightmare might be ending. After several attempts, the Republican-led legislature finally succeeded in overriding a Brownback veto to reverse much of his signature tax cut. This is a hopeful sign for the two-party system in America: Republican does not necessarily mean crazy; if something clearly doesn’t work, eventually voters see it and politicians respond.

The open question is how far this goes. Kansas will elect a new governor in 2018; moderate and conservative candidates are already angling for the Republican nomination. And if moderate Republicanism makes a comeback in Kansas, could the same thing happen nationally?


For whatever it’s worth, given that he might say the opposite tomorrow, Trump finally endorsed NATO’s Article 5, the one that pledges all NATO countries to defend each other. But Trump is still pushing the bogus idea that NATO countries spending less than 2% of their GDP on defense “owe” something to somebody.


Betsy DeVos is just as bad as Democrats feared. She wants public-funded private schools whose backers will be able to make unlimited amounts of money off the taxpayers, while not protecting LGBTQ students from bullying or harassment. Collins and Murkowski voted against DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary, but all the other Republican senators have to answer for this.


Good Atlantic article about Trump’s policy-free administration.

The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

TrumpCare was written by Congress; Trump and his HHS secretary played virtually no role. The “Trump tax cut” is vacuous; Congress will have to fill in all the details. And last week was supposed to be “Infrastructure Week”, when the administration rolled out its plan to create jobs by rebuilding the country’s worn-out public infrastructure. But the plan is mostly just a wish that other people — states, cities, profit-making corporations — will do good things. The administration has no specific projects in mind and offers little-to-no money to pay for anything.


The NYT verified something I had surmised a few weeks ago: Trump still hasn’t replaced any of the U.S. attorneys he fired.


The Bill Cosby trial is happening.

but we need to keep paying attention to health care

In America as we used to know it, if you didn’t hear any news about a major piece of legislation, that meant it had stalled. We’re used to the idea that legislation goes through hearings, committee votes, and a series of public proposals that eventually converge on a bill, which then gets debated over several days or weeks before being voted on. Each of those events is supposed to generate headlines, so if you don’t see headlines, nothing much is happening.

Well, that’s another way that Trump’s America is different from the one we’ve been living in all our lives: The AHCA (a.k.a. TrumpCare) went through the House almost in secret. Versions were worked out in closed sessions within the Republican caucus, the hearing process did not consider any amendments, and the vote happened too fast for the Congressional Budget Office to analyze the final proposal. It wasn’t going to happen and then suddenly it was done.

Oh, but the Senate would be different, everyone said. Well, not so much.

[Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is speeding toward a vote, with the goal of passing a healthcare bill the last week of June, before the Fourth of July recess.

Republicans have said there will be no committee hearings or markups for the bill, a major departure from the standard Senate process. Instead, the bill will go straight to the floor for a vote.

Democrats fear the legislation will be kept secret until just a couple of days before the vote, to minimize time for opposition to build.

If things were working in the usual American way, all the attention Trump and James Comey are getting would keep TrumpCare from raising the energy it needs to pass. But McConnell has come up with a different method: He’s using Trump the way a pickpocket uses a distracting partner: Trump grabs your attention like an obnoxious drunk in a bar, and McConnell quietly sneaks up behind you and steals your health insurance.

But what about the Republican moderates who were supposed to save the country from the worst excesses of the House bill? They’ve gone silent. As Josh Marshall generalizes: “The GOP moderates always cave.”

So especially if you live in a state with a Republican senator, you can’t wait for the newspapers to tell you when it’s time to take action. Whatever you can do to keep Republicans from taking health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans, you need to do it now.

and let’s close with something incredibly efficient

Do you have 20 minutes to review the history of the entire world?

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • bobdrad  On June 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Re the Gal Gadot/People of Color discussion: I never mentally framed her as white. Instead, I remember being pleasantly surprised at seeing a person with clear middle-eastern features representing righteousness in an American movie and thinking “how did this manage to happen?” and, at breaking such a barrier “what does this imply for the future of American film?”. I think she is physically quite atypical of past American film protagonists and hope this is a sign of future freedom in role casting.

    • jh  On June 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      I did frame her as white. So what if she isn’t a blond blue eyed white woman. She can pass. Meanwhile, can you imagine in a million years that a Zoe Saldana could pass as white*? Or a Frieda Pinto? I’m not even picking a really dark skinned actress.

      Just because a few of us can distinguish those specific features from different ethnic groups doesn’t mean that everyone can. I can tell a Mexican from an Indian. But tell that Indian who was just asked to go back to Mexico. It’s the broad characteristics that we are looking at. And Gal Gadot can pass.

      *maybe with a lot of photoshopping and playing with color

  • Kaci  On June 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    One of the other issues about Gal Godot I’ve seen discussed is that some folks are saying she’s a Zionist, with varying definitions of what that means. It seems that she did serve in the Israeli military (which I think is required of all Israeli citizens?) and supports the existence of the state of Israel. It’s not clear to me what her view is on the Israel/Palestine conflict or how said view should affect my decision to see the movie. Anyone have any better information?

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On June 12, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    With regard to Wonder Woman, how can we endure the outrage that a monotheist has been cast to play a polytheist? a Semitic speaker to play an Indo-European speaker?

  • Bill G  On June 12, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    We need to move beyond analyzing and parsing each of the most recent Trump outrages. We know what we have with this guy and we run the risk of acceptance though exhaustion.
    We need continued laser focus on the special consul investigation and we need to redirect focus to all the cowardly enablers,…those who hold the key and power to do something about this debacle. Starting with Ryan and McConnell, we need to make all Repulicans pay a very high price in the midterms. Given current Republican behavior I suspect successful impeachment is not likely in the cards. Suggestions/comments anyone?

    • jh  On June 16, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Trump’s antics are just that.. antics. They are like that traffic accident on the other side of the median. (why do drivers always slow down to rubberneck right there?)

      Focus should be on what senate and congress are doing. I’d put Trump’s crap on the second page of every newspaper or on the 5th link on a news website. The games being played in senate and congress by the republicans should be in caps, bolded and blinking.

  • ADeweyan  On June 12, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Regarding the lack of White House plans — I think it’s pretty clear now that Trump sees himself only as Salesman in Chief. He believes he can negotiate and/or sell anything, and he profoundly does not care what it is he’s selling. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t really know or understand what he is selling (as indicated by off-hand comments and tweets that continue to make promises his congress and administration is in the process of breaking). So the “plans” that are coming out are coming from the hardcore, even extremist conservatives he’s surrounded himself with.

    What was it he told the Republicans before the inauguration — pass whatever you want and I’ll sign it?

  • Jeff  On June 13, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    A humble submission for consideration for a future: “But we should be paying attention to…” section: Donald Trumps nominees for vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

    http://journalstar.com/opinion/columnists/future-of-unions-in-balance-as-trump-prepares-to-reshape/article_9a32a7b6-56eb-5cc8-900b-4aedb60f70ef.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: