Not Again

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

– Pete Townsend, “Won’t Get Fooled Again

This week’s featured post is “Before We Even Think about Candidates for 2020“. During my week off, I preached this sermon.

This week everybody was talking about Michael Cohen

Two things were striking about Michael Cohen’s public testimony to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

  1. He accused the president of multiple crimes, offered documents to back up his claims, and gave names of people who were also involved.
  2. Republicans on the committee did not rebut any of these claims. With only a few clumsy exceptions (see below) they did not even defend Trump’s character.

Republicans were right, of course, in the observation that Cohen’s word by itself shouldn’t count for much. But that’s not what Democrats are asking the country to believe. They’re going to use Cohen’s account as a road map to assemble supporting evidence. I want to know what Trump’s accountant, Alan Weisselberg, is going to say, and what’s in the tax returns of Trump himself and the Trump Organization.

To anyone outside the Fox New bubble, Republican Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows embarrassed themselves in the hearings. They made crystal clear what House Democrats have been saying for two years: If Trump has done anything wrong, House Republicans don’t want to know about it. [Another thing that’s apparently OK if you’re a Republican: witness intimidation.]

The SNL parody (with Ben Stiller as Cohen and Bill Hader as Jordan) wasn’t far from the truth.

Cohen’s actual comment was dead-on:

I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years … And I can only warn [that] people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.

Cohen cleared up the question of whether Trump “directed” him to lie to Congress, as BuzzFeed reported and Mueller’s office rebutted: Before his testimony, he had a conversation with Trump in which the President spoke to him “in code“.  [at 2:26 in the transcript]

He doesn’t tell you what he wants. Again: “Michael, there is no Russia. There’s no collusion. There’s no involvement, no interference.” I know what he wants, because I’ve been around him for so long.

Also, Cohen says Trump’s lawyers read and edited his prepared remarks for that hearing, which included the lie.

Many people (including James Comey and Andrew McCabe) have made this observation: In private, Trump talks like a mob boss. This kind of non-specific direction resembles dialog from The Sopranos.

Cohen started his prepared remarks by saying that Trump is a racist. That started a long and silly dispute, in which Rep. Mark Meadows attempted to “prove” that Trump is not racist by producing a black woman who works in his administration. (The woman in question had no background in public housing, but qualified for her position at HUD by working for the Trump family. She is reported to be angling for a role in reality TV.)

Sure, Trump is a racist, but that’s the wrong point to get hung up on, especially given the many definitions of racism and the fact that many people (like me, for instance) admit that we’re pretty much all racists in one way or another.

The more significant fact, the one we can observe directly without trying to see into the man’s heart, is that Trump exploits racism. He supports efforts to suppress the black vote. He makes racist appeals. He is very slow to criticize white supremacists, because they’re a key part of his base. Whenever he needs to get his minions stoked up, he picks a fight with some black athlete like LeBron James or Steph Curry or Marshawn Lynch. (Actually, his biggest critics in the sports world are white coaches: Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr. But hitting back at them wouldn’t make the racial contrast, so what would be the point?)

While we’re talking about racism, don’t miss this article by Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. She points to the “racial illiteracy” that is promoted by the notion that racism is an individual attitude (that nice people don’t have), rather than a problem in the very shape of our society.

If I don’t understand racism as a deeply embedded system that I have been shaped by and participate in, my inaction will uphold it.

Given his article, you can read the Mark Meadows episode as an example of her point: Meadows interprets racism as an individual hostility towards blacks, and is offended that anyone would accuse either Trump or Meadows himself of racism. After all, he has nieces and nephews who are people of color, and is friends with the black chair of the committee, Elijah Cummings.

But none of that really matters. Good for him as an individual for consciously accepting his nieces and nephews, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t affect his actions, or that his votes as a congressman don’t uphold a racist system.

and the Trump/Kim summit

I wasn’t surprised that nothing came of the summit, but it did surprise me that everyone admitted nothing came of it. Trump is now trying to paint the summit’s failure as an expression of his strength, but it really just reflected the fact that the whole Trump/Kim relationship has been a reality TV show.

In the early part of the week, Republicans and Democrats contrasted Cohen’s testimony with the approaching summit: Which was the news and which was the distraction? Don Jr. laid it out like this:

You got a President trying to deal with a major world issue, and to try to distract – or whatever it is – by bringing in a convicted felon and known liar. I mean, it’s pretty pathetic, but it really shows you how much the Democrats hate Trump.

I interpreted the summit as the distraction, because Trump’s whole approach to North Korea has been more theater than substance. He theatrically exaggerated the threat of war with his “fire and fury” remarks, and then he resolved the self-induced tension with his ridiculous claim that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” His statement that “we fell in love” should have made the whole US foreign policy team cringe, and probably did.

In reality, Kim did enough testing to establish North Korea’s nuclear threat, and then paused to play Trump for propaganda points, which Trump gave him. Kim’s people have now seen him meet the American president as an equal, and to refuse to be bullied into giving up his country’s nuclear status. Trump has scaled back military cooperation with South Korea and vouched for Kim’s innocence in the death of American Otto Warmbier (which his family disputes).

In return, Kim hasn’t given up anything. There never was a serious prospect that he would.

and the national emergency

The House passed a resolution voiding Trump’s declaration of national emergency on the southern border. The Senate has to vote on it, and four Republican votes are needed to pass it. This weekend, Rand Paul became the fourth to come out against the emergency, saying:

I can’t vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress. We may want more money for border security, but Congress didn’t authorize it. If we take away those checks and balances, it’s a dangerous thing

He joins Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Tom Tillis. The vote is expected next week. Trump is expected to veto the resolution after it passes, setting up a legal battle that undoubtedly will be decided by the Supreme Court.

I generally try to rein in my urge to speculate, but I don’t think John Roberts really wants this responsibility. I expect him to look for some way to drag the process out until the point becomes moot.

and the US government taking children from their parents

The House Oversight Committee is looking into the Trump administration policy of separating families at the border. The first hearing was Tuesday. Channel 3000 lists its takeaways:

  • There was no cross-agency mechanism to track children as they moved from the jurisdiction of Homeland Security into HHS.
  • No officials along the way objected.
  • There are thousands of complaints of sexual abuse against minors in custody.
  • Scott Lloyd from ICE (and now a senior advisor at HHS) kept track of pregnant minors in order to block them getting abortions.

The committee is now subpoenaing documents from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and HHS.

and an unusual amount of hypocrisy and projection

Hypocrisy is constant in this administration, so I generally let it go. But this week stood out.

Ivanka Trump went straight from her inherited role in the family business to a job in her father’s White House (that she has no qualifications for). Here’s her comment on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ idea for a federal job guarantee:

I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last 4 years. People want to work for what they get.

She is, I deduce, deeply envious of all those people who were born with nothing and have only the things they’ve earned.

Paul Krugman went on to look at the further claim Ivanka made: that people “want the ability to live in a country where there is the potential for upward mobility.”

Ms. Trump is surely right in asserting that most of us want a country in which there is the potential for upward mobility. But the things we need to do to ensure that we are that kind of country — the policies that are associated with high levels of upward mobility around the world — are exactly the things Republicans denounce as socialism.

Allies of President Trump are incredulous that anyone still listens to a person who has lied in the past. White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders:

It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.

It’s worth noting that during Michael Cohen’s first opportunity to “spread his lies” to Congress, he was actually spreading Trump’s lies. Fact-checkers estimate that in 2018 Trump averaged 15 false claims per day.

After years of ranting about imaginary voter fraud by Democrats, Trump has nothing to say when an actual absentee-ballot scam by Republicans causes an election to be thrown out.

The same people who object strongly when Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets hint at anti-Semitism don’t care at all when she faces blatant Islamophobia.

and books you might want to read

Andy McCabe turns out to be a really good writer. His new book The Threat is worth reading for its content, of course. But McCabe also has a deft hand for including just enough scene-setting details to make his account come alive.

In addition to all the Trump-and-Comey stuff, he also tells the story of the FBI’s role in tracking down the Boston Marathon bombers.

Timothy Carney’s Alienated America is a frustrating book. The first half is really good: He seems to be the kind of conservative who was opposed to Trump (but voted for him over Hillary), and he’s pursuing the mystery of why Trump was attractive to so many other conservatives. He popularizes a lot of good sociology, cuts through some simplistic stuff about the white working class, and comes to a very interesting conclusion: The Trump base, the first supporters who picked him over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, were people who were doing well in places that were doing badly. Not the guys dying of opioid overdoses, but the neighbors of guys dying of opioid overdoses.

He then does some more good work to identify what’s wrong with those communities: Their civic institutions have been hollowed out. So when people hit misfortune, they feel like they’re on their own: no churches, no extended family, no union, nothing that anchors a supportive network. People lack social capital, so they respond to the Trump message that the American Dream is dead. (In places that still have social capital, it turns out, the chances for social and economic mobility are much higher, so the American Dream is alive.)

That was all fascinating. And then, very abruptly at Chapter 8, all the data goes away and we’re in Conservative Just-So-Story Land: Local civic institutions were killed off by centralization, and especially by government. Liberal government is hostile to churches, and to anybody but government doing anything for the community. There’s no need for data; just tell a couple of uncheckable anecdotes and rely on the fact that there’s no other way things could be.

A second culprit is hyper-individualism, which is embodied in the sexual revolution, but has nothing to do with the conservative push to replace public schools with voucher-supported private schools, or to turn public-policy decisions over to the market. (Upscale liberal communities, he believes, teach our kids the sexual abstinence we think is judgmental in school programs. He doesn’t know the same teens I know, and hasn’t talked to the people who teach UU sex education.) Mom-and-pop shops are being killed off by zoning rather than the market. The local diner is the kind of “third place” a community needs, but he never mentions the public library.

It’s like a very interesting and intelligent guy wrote the first seven chapters, and then turned the manuscript over to a yahoo to finish.

and you also might be interested in …

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has joined the 2020 presidential race. He is likely to make climate change his central issue.

Great article: “Mitch McConnell, Republican Nihilist“.

there is only the will to power. He is a remorselessly political creature, devoid of principle, who, more than any figure in modern political history has damaged the fabric of American democracy. That will be his epitaph.

The mainstream media loves Democrats-in-chaos stories like this one from the Washington Post. But nothing in this story sounds alarming to me: Moderate Democrats from swing districts sometimes vote with Republicans to amend bills that more liberal Democrats want. The progressive wing of the Party may challenge the notion that those districts really are that conservative, by running primary candidates who are more liberal than the current Democratic representative.

That’s all as it should be. Neither the moderate votes nor the threat of progressive primary challenges sound like betrayals to me. A healthy party has these kinds of debates.

Now it’s the Methodists’ turn to fracture over LGBTQ issues.

No charges will be filed in the Stephon Clark case. Clark was an unarmed 22-year-old black man who was shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s back yard.

The officers fired their weapons 20 times in Mr. Clark’s direction within seconds of turning a blind corner. “Both officers believed that he was pointing a gun at them,” Ms. Schubert said. She added that police video showed Mr. Clark was “advancing” on the officers.

Mr. Clark was later found to be unarmed; his cellphone was found under his body. An autopsy released by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office in May found at least seven bullets had hit Mr. Clark.

A comprehensive analysis of police video footage by The New York Times found that gunfire continued after Mr. Clark had fallen to his hands and knees. Six of the seven shots most likely hit Mr. Clark as he was falling or was already on the ground, according to The Times’s analysis. Three minutes passed after the shooting before police officers identified themselves to Mr. Clark, and he did not receive medical attention for six minutes.

So Clark was someplace he had every right to be, holding his phone and “advancing” towards a corner police had not turned yet. Whenever I hear about such cases, I imagine myself trying to raise a black teen-ager. What do you tell him to do or not do, so that he can avoid getting killed like this?

and let’s close with something we’ve seen far too often already

Namely: a trailer for a movie where a white person plays a key role in black progress.

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  • Kaci  On March 4, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    One of the things that’s confusing me about the Democrats in chaos stories is the idea of seen that one shouldn’t primary an incumbent. I don’t understand why not, if you think your ideas are better than the ideas of the incumbent. It seems to me that one could do that and still get behind whoever wins the primary.

  • Ed O  On March 4, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    One of the most alarming things Cohen said was in his closing statement: “given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” What do you think he meant by this?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 4, 2019 at 8:48 pm

      It’s “Chicken Little-level fearmongering.” Someone asked that same question on Here’s their answer:

      What if Donald Trump refuses to accept defeat in 2020? (See this CNN op-ed.) T.H., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

      We have answered a variant of this question before, but that CNN piece (another clunker, in our view) was bound to raise them again. For those who do not wish to read the link, it’s a list of steps the author thinks that various actors in the federal government should take right now in order to make sure that Donald Trump does not attempt to remain in power if he loses the election.

      The reason that it is a clunker is that it is Chicken Little-level fearmongering. There are no presidential powers that, when exercised, do not require the willing participation of other people. If Trump wants to nuke North Korea, he needs the military to execute that order. If he wants to spend money, he needs the Treasury Dept. and the Federal Reserve to actually transfer the funds. If he wants to sign a bill into law, he needs people to actually follow that law. If he wants to fly somewhere on Air Force One to meet with Xi Jinping, he needs the assistance of Secret Service personnel, and military pilots, and support staff.

      If none of these actors is willing to play along with Trump, then his refusing to accept the result of the election would merely—to use a phrase we’ve used before—make him into the highest-profile trespasser in American history. He could sit in the White House and pout and make phone calls to Sean Hannity, but he wouldn’t actually be able to do anything. That is, until he was arrested by U.S. marshals. And if these actors were willing to play along (and it would require a vast number of them, not just one or two), then the country would have a much bigger problem on its hands than Donald Trump’s petulance.

    • weeklysift  On March 5, 2019 at 6:52 am

      I could imagine Trump calling his followers out into the streets, but I imagine that would simply lead to a spasm of rioting, and not a serious threat to the government. As long as the bulk of the government remained loyal to the Constitution, and to the idea that we’re a government of laws rather than men, the new president would take office.

      For the most part, I agree with GWJr. Here’s another thought experiment to illustrate the ideas he’s talking about: Imagine that Trump dies in office, and Don Jr. immediately goes on TV. He announces that just before dying, President Trump signed an executive order declaring the US a hereditary monarchy. So rather than Pence taking over, he will reign as King Donald II.

      One possibility is that all the key people drop to their knees and say, “God save the King!” A few congressmen and Supreme Court justices might protest, but a royal decree would explain how to deal with them.

      The more likely scenario, though, is that everybody looks around in bewilderment, until the head of the Secret Service says to Pence, “Mr. President, what should I do with this lunatic?”

      • Ed O  On March 5, 2019 at 3:38 pm

        My imagination was in another direction: after losing the election, but before the inauguration, Trump could manufacture a reason he has to stay in power, like starting a war with Venezuela or nuking North Korea, then declaring a state of emergency or saying he has to delay the transition of power for national security reasons. Or, he could claim that the votes for his opponent were fraudulent and he was the real winner. What would prevent this?

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 5, 2019 at 5:51 pm

        This is where the “deep state” comes in, with some Secret Service employees gently leading Trump outside to a waiting car to drive him back to New York while he’s yelling about how he’s still the president and they have to do what he says.

      • Ed O  On March 6, 2019 at 2:59 am

        Only Trump might not be the lone lunatic. It might be Trump and Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts (and, heaven forbid, maybe another one if RBG doesn’t outlast the term) standing together against the otherwise obviously right outcome. When Gore (actually) won the election, everyone looked to the courts to say what to do. So far, so good, but then when the Supreme Court decided we didn’t need to bother counting all the votes and left their favored candidate as the de facto winner, the secret service didn’t have the license they should have had to escort W away.

        What keeps Trump from crafting some scenario that his packed court might ratify, thereby keeping the “deep state” just confused enough about whose version of reality to uphold that he can get away with it? This sounds alarmingly likely to me, and not nearly as unrealistic as the country accepting Don Jr. as King. Trump may not be among the smartest of Presidents, but he could surely come up with something more believable than that.

      • weeklysift  On March 7, 2019 at 6:41 am

        The gist of what both GW Jr. and I are saying is that a lot of people would have to go along with a scenario like this, and they would have to be in the right places to make a difference. If you expand the conspiracy far enough, then yes, anything can happen.

        What causes me not to worry about this, though, is that Trump does not understand how government works. A more cunning president, with an understanding of exactly who would need to approve when, and what kind of justification they would need to make, would be more dangerous. Trump could come up with a story about how unjust the election was, and his fans would believe it. But I can’t see him putting together the kind of plot it would take.

      • Ed O  On March 7, 2019 at 1:04 pm

        I’m still worried, but your view is heartening. I may trust your opinion on this more than my own.

      • weeklysift  On March 10, 2019 at 6:59 am

        No doubt MoveOn or somebody will have a go-out-in-the-streets contingency plan should Trump look like he’s about to try something like this. We should be ready to respond if he does, but I’m not losing sleep over it just yet.

  • Eric L  On March 6, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Watching the white savior video after reading the Robin DiAngelo article — where she explains that it is problematic that Jackie Robinson is portrayed as the center of his story when in fact black people have no agency and a proper understanding would center the white role models who changed the rules to let him in — was whiplash inducing.


  • By Alarm Bells | The Weekly Sift on April 8, 2019 at 11:42 am

    […] quest to understand Trump’s base voters, but I’m starting to lose hope. A few weeks ago I told you about Timothy Carney’s Alienated America. The key insight there is that the original Trump supporters, the ones who were with him in the […]

  • […] social capital. Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America (which I did a mini-review of in a weekly summary in 2019) is a conservative look at the Trump phenomenon. Carney argues (with data to back him up) that the […]

  • By on July 17, 2021 at 2:47 am

    Not Again | The Weekly Sift

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