America Is Better Than This

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

– President Barack Obama, eulogy for John McCain

To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this.

President George W. Bush, eulogy for John McCain

This week’s featured post is “John McCain Shot Liberty Valance“.

This week everybody was talking about John McCain

Last week, pundits were announcing the worst week of the Trump presidency, as the legal dominoes started to fall more swiftly. But I wonder if Trump actually disliked this week more, because so much of it wasn’t about him. Instead, it was about one of the few elected Republicans who didn’t kowtow to him, Senator John McCain.

From his funeral in Arizona on Thursday to his burial at the Annapolis Naval Cemetery on Sunday, the national focus was on the memory of McCain. And what most people seemed to remember was that he was nothing like Donald Trump.

The featured post uses the classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to discuss the phenomenon of a man whose life gets mixed up (and partially lost) in the myth we need to tell about him.

Many of the eulogies of McCain were seen as indirect attacks on Trump, because they praised McCain virtues that contrast so strongly with Trump vices. Humorist Andy Borowitz took the indirect-attack angle one step further: “Obama’s Barrage of Complete Sentences Seen as Brutal Attack on Trump“.

and revoking Hispanics’ US citizenship

Over the last year or so, a lot of different stories have revolved around a central theme: The Trump administration wants to use any excuse it can muster to get non-whites out of the country.

  • The most visible of those efforts has been the zero-tolerance policy on migrants crossing the southern border, which has had the effect of voiding the US’s commitments under treaties and international law to give reasonable consideration to pleas for asylum.
  • In May, the administration revoked the temporary protected status granted to 57,000 Hondurans in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch. (The hurricane, of course, is long gone. But the question remains: Is it safe for those people to go home?) All in all, about 400,000 people from a variety of countries have lost their permission to live in this country.
  • A program that offered citizenship to immigrants who had skills needed by the military hasn’t been eliminated, but it has become much harder to complete the process. According to Military Times: “The bottom line is that far more than 40 may soon be weeded out – and it’s possible that the majority of the remaining 1,000 or so participants in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, program will be let go before they can be cleared for duty.”
  • Spouses of H-1B visa holders are being denied work permits.
  • A “denaturalization task force” has been formed to re-examine immigrants who have already been granted citizenship. “The creation of the task force itself is undoing the naturalization of the more than twenty million naturalized citizens in the American population by taking away their assumption of permanence,” wrote author Masha Gessen in a widely circulated New Yorker column. “All of them — all of us — are second-class citizens now.”

This week produced a new entry in this series: Because there have been cases in which midwives working in Texas near the Mexican border have provided fake Texas birth certificates for babies actually born in Mexico, the administration is regarding everyone delivered by a midwife in that area as suspect.

In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.

Given the demographics of the area and who uses midwives, just about everybody affected is Hispanic.

Eugene Robinson:

If the government had specific evidence that an individual’s birth certificate was falsified, then we could have a debate about the right thing to do. But this administration is assuming that a person of a certain ethnicity, recorded as being born in a certain part of the country and meeting other unspecified criteria, is de facto not a citizen — and has the burden of proving otherwise.

Oh, and those kids the Trump administration took away from their parents at the border? 500 of them are still in government custody. We can’t forget about them just because no new events keep them in the headlines.

and the Catholic Church

The clergy sexual abuse story has now turned into a political football within the Catholic hierarchy. Last week, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published a letter calling on Pope Francis to resign. It would be one thing if this looked like an honest call for a house-cleaning. But it seems to be a power move by conservatives in the hierarchy to get rid of a liberal pope and (simultaneously) blame the issue on homosexuality rather than abuse of power.

and the midterm elections in November

Both Florida and Georgia will have fascinating governor’s races that pit black progressives against right-wing whites with a history of dog-whistling about race.

We’ve known since July about Stacey Abrams against Brian Kemp in Georgia. Abrams is a black woman testing the theory that Democrats can do better with a clear progressive message that motivates its core voters than by shifting to the center to compete for moderates. Kemp was endorsed by Trump and has ads featuring guns, chain saws, and a get-tough attitude towards undocumented immigrants.

Now in Florida we’ve got black Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum against another Trumpist, Congressman Ron DeSantis. Things might get kind of dicey there.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday morning, the representative said Florida voters should not “monkey it up” and vote for what he called Gillum’s “socialist agenda.” DeSantis’ campaign denied the comment had any racial intent.

Again we’ve got the Trump base against an effort to give Democrats — especially poor and minority voters who often stay home — something exciting to vote for.

Whether or not DeSantis himself keeps dog-whistling, race is going to be an issue. A neo-Nazi group is already robo-calling against Gillum.

538 adds the right amount of skepticism to the poll showing Beto O’Rourke within one point of Ted Cruz in Texas. Specifically: Stranger things have happened, but they usually don’t. Lots of polls have the race within single digits, but none show Beto with a lead. So he has a real shot, especially this far out from election day, but it’s still an uphill struggle.

Trump is promising to campaign for Cruz. But when he gets to Texas he may see a few billboards like this:


A sad symptom of the times: Monday, when Trump announced a major new trade deal with Mexico (“an incredible deal for both parties” and “maybe the largest trade deal ever made”), my first thought was: “I wonder if anything actually happened.”

I mean, Trump announced the denuclearization of North Korea, too, and that meant nothing at all. It’s weird. I’ve often disliked, disapproved of, or disagreed with American presidents. But I’ve never been so inclined to discount presidential announcements as meaningless. If Trump announced that we were bombing Pyongyang, I’d think: “I wonder if the Pentagon knows about this.” And I wouldn’t believe it until somebody there had confirmed it.

Vox shares my skepticism:

The countries involved are closer to achieving Trump’s dream of a changed NAFTA that mostly helps America, but still not that close — which means the president may be celebrating too early. “There is still a long road ahead,” says [Christopher Wilson, a NAFTA expert at the Wilson Center].

Trump also announced a deadline of Friday for Canada to join the so-called agreement. But Friday passed and the negotiations continue.

Many people speculate that Trump is looking for an excuse to pull the plug on NAFTA. Republicans in Congress are mostly against that idea, but it’s not clear what can be done. Under NAFTA rules, the president can give Mexico and Canada six months notice.

A sidebar to this story is the off-the-record comment Trump made to reporters from Bloomberg, that somehow found its way into the Toronto Star:

Trump made his controversial statements in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. He said, “off the record,” that he is not making any compromises at all with Canada — and that he could not say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”

Trump immediately blamed the Bloomberg reporters for breaking his confidence, but the reporter who broke the story says that’s not true.

I’d said I wasn’t going to say anything about my source for the quotes Trump made off the record to Bloomberg. However, I don’t want to be party to the president’s smearing of excellent, ethical journalists. So I can say this: none of the Bloomberg interviewers was my source.

The NYT’s Maggie Haberman raises the possibility that Trump had it leaked himself.

but let’s not forget about Puerto Rico

The latest estimates are that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from the effects of Hurricane Maria last year. The federal government’s disaster-relief effort was its own kind of disaster, and the Trump administration has really paid no price for that. (This is one of the many events that you might think would call for congressional hearings. But Republicans’ attitude towards the Russian investigation has expanded to cover all areas of government: If Trump did something wrong, they don’t want to know.)

Vox makes the connection between this mistreatment and Puerto Rico’s lack of statehood, which it is seeking.

That a sitting US president would expect no political consequences from showing zero empathy toward the deaths of so many American citizens crystallizes the fact that Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory is more than a civil rights issue — it’s a human rights issue.

More than 3 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico with fewer constitutional rights than anyone living in one of the 50 states. Americans on the island can’t vote for president in the general election or elect a voting member of Congress. But the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has shown that the problem is even uglier than that: Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory, which is rooted in racist legal rulings, has created a class of citizens whose lives are valued less, and whose deaths can be ignored by America’s most powerful leaders.

and you also might be interested in …

Tom Tomorrow:

With all the talk of a “blue wave” in November, it’s worth remembering that it won’t happen by itself. If anyone you know hasn’t registered to vote, or is thinking about not voting, remind them of this scenario (from Matt Ygelsias):

Really worth emphasizing that there’s a good (~25%) chance Republicans hold the House, gain a senate seat or two, replace McCain/Flake/Corker with Trump loyalists, Mueller gets fired, Manafort gets pardoned, and then that’s game over — the coverup worked.

Nate Silver’s 538 quotes similar odds: a 28% chance that Republicans hold the House. If that happens, the People will not have held Congress responsible for not holding Trump responsible for anything he’s done. The door will be wide open to anything he wants to do in the future.

If you’re thinking far ahead, here’s the betting on who the Democrats will nominate in 2020. Kamala Harris is the front-runner, but not by a convincing margin. A ticket that pays $1 if she’s nominated is going for 22 cents. Other notables: Elizabeth Warren at 16 cents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at 15 cents. I still think Somebody You’ve Never Heard Of has a good shot.

Compare this to January, 2015 (the closest to a 4-years-ago parallel I could find), when Hillary Clinton’s nomination shares were at 75 cents.

Having not been invited to speak at McCain’s funeral, Trump held a rally in Indiana Thursday instead. It included this howler:

They want to raid Medicare to pay for socialism.

Medicare, of course, is socialism. (If you don’t believe me, believe Ronald Reagan, who predicted Medicare would lead to a socialist dictatorship.) The centerpiece of the Democratic Socialist agenda is to extend Medicare to everyone.

I guess Chuck Grassley has given up on Ivanka or John Kelly or anybody else keeping Trump in line. He’s handing the job to God.

Trump blocked a 1.9% pay raise for federal workers, citing the budget deficit that his recent corporate tax cut made much worse:

We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.

A few observations:

  • 1.9% isn’t a huge raise.
  • During the Great Recession, federal workers’ pay was frozen. They haven’t made up that ground yet.
  • Conservatives like to paint federal workers as “bureaucrats” and “paper-pushers”, but they do a lot of useful and necessary stuff. For example: the doctors and nurses at the VA, the disaster-relief folks at FEMA, air-traffic controllers at the FAA, and the Secret Service agents Trump is relying on to protect his life. Think about NASA, the CDC, the FBI, and all the people working to keep mercury out of your water and E coli out of your vegetables. They’re federal employees.

This is a “first they came for …” situation. “Bureaucrats” are not popular, so they’re the first ones to be sacrificed on the altar of Tax Cuts. After the election, though, Republicans are going to be trying to fill the tax-cut budget hole by cutting more popular stuff like Social Security and Medicare. (That’s what “entitlement reform” means.) That’s not a partisan charge against them, it’s what they’ve been saying for months.

and let’s close with something bigger

I know it doesn’t make any sense to close with an opening, but it’s hard to find anything bigger than Neil Patrick Harris’ opening to the 2013 Tony Awards.

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  • knb  On September 3, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    RE: NAFTA, yah some stuff happened. But it was kind of the equivalent of switching from 1% milk to 2% milk. Not even close to “the largest trade deal ever made.”

    • reverendsax  On September 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm

      Especially since the micro filtered milk product that’s causing all the trouble didn’t exist when NAFTA was written.

  • reverendsax  On September 3, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Hurray for someone we’ve never heard of before!

  • Larry Benjamin  On September 3, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    Harris is ahead of Bernie Sanders? This is what happens when only political junkies are following this stuff. I would be surprised if one-tenth of the people who know who Bernie Sanders is, could also tell you who Kamala Harris is.

  • Xan  On September 4, 2018 at 7:48 am

    I’m surprised no one has seen the obvious: Trump cancelled pay raises so that Robert Mueller couldn’t get a raise.

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